Politics & Policy

Louisiana’s Gutting of School-Choice Programs Deprives Its Poorest Children of a Good Education

(Dreamstime image: Lyndale Woolcock)
Low-income families are invariably hit hardest.

Across the country, school-choice programs — whether they’re charter schools, vouchers, lotteries, or others — are typically structured to benefit the neediest students and families first. Louisiana’s is no different, but recent budget cuts have kept hundreds of these students out of their preferred schools, despite the governor’s campaign promise to keep the program in place.

Democratic Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards’s campaign was heavily funded by teachers’ unions — no friends of school choice — but he nonetheless promised that no students who were benefiting from choice programs would have anything to worry about under his regime. Instead, the first budget he submitted slashed choice-program funding by $6 million. As a result, hundreds of students and their families have seen their education futures endangered.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program, which was targeted for cuts — from $42 million to $36 million under Edwards’s new budget — is reserved for students from low-income backgrounds who attend low-performing schools. Over 7,000 Louisiana students benefit from the program, and they disproportionately come from minority backgrounds.

In the face of these budget cuts, hundreds of children who had previously been given scholarships have been put on wait lists at their schools — putting their futures up in the air. Up to 1,000 students who thought they would benefit from the scholarship program would be affected by these cuts.

RELATED: School-Voucher Rules Trip Up Student Success in Louisiana

These students were mere days away from the start of the school year. Some were expecting to attend schools they had newly decided on this year. Others are being ripped out of schools that they’ve attended before, where they have already built social networks. The changes are also wrenching for parents, who have been thrilled with participation in the program — over 90 percent of Louisiana parents who participate in the program are satisfied with both the school and their children’s academic performance, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

While having children pulled out of these schools is tragic, what’s worse is seeing their futures ripped away from them.

And while having children pulled out of these schools is tragic, what’s worse is seeing their futures ripped away from them. The Louisiana Scholarship Program has done a good job educating Louisiana’s children, and the relatively new program was only getting better. As the 2015 report from the Louisiana Department of Education outlines, “student achievement gains in the Louisiana Scholarship program based on 2015 state assessments . . . outpaced Louisiana’s statewide public school average.”

“Since its inception,” the report says, “families have consistently expressed both increasing demand for and satisfaction with the Louisiana Scholarship Program.”

These results are largely in line with K–12 choice programs around the country: Parents are thrilled to be able to give their children the opportunity for a better education and are largely happy with the results. It’s been estimated that over one million students are on wait lists for choice programs across the country. In Louisiana, more than 13,000 students applied for the 7,000 Louisiana Scholarship Program spots.

#related#This is the program that Governor Edwards decided he had to cut, pulling ten-year-old Corissa Thomas out of the school of her choice and five-year-old Ashanti Bovia out of kindergarten at the school she has attended for two years. More stories abound of cuts that are forcing low-income and needy students out of schools that could be the key to their educational opportunity, advancement, and attainment.

Louisiana’s scholarship program is an important piece of the puzzle for many needy families in the state. Governor Edwards never promised to expand Louisiana’s successful choice programs, but he did promise not to harm the current families benefiting from them. Unfortunately, his education budget breaks that important promise.

— Kevin Glass is the director of policy and outreach at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a nonprofit that publishes public-interest journalism at Watchdog.org.

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