Course Choice: Expanding Educational Freedom
Without ensuring access to a high-quality education for every child, Louisiana cannot have a vibrant and growing economy. Attracting more jobs and opportunity to the Pelican State requires a workforce with the proper training and skills to compete in the 21st century economy. Developing this workforce starts at the primary school level, which is why freedom-based educational reform stands as an economic imperative—and a moral one too.
Since New Orleans revamped its public school system into a collection of charter schools, the Big Easy has been leading the way in freedom-based educational reform. Along the way, it’s helped thousands of students and families find a school that fits their needs. Unfortunately, that success hasn’t made its way across the entire state.
While families in more wealthy and urban parishes have had expanded educational freedom, families in more suburban and rural parishes have too often been left behind. But expanding access to Course Choice may be the answer for families seeking a school that fits.
Course Choice is a program that allows students to enroll in individual courses outside of their current school at no additional cost. Families can choose from a variety of providers both online and in-person to meet their child’s individual needs. Course Choice is currently only available to students in public schools graded C, D, or F by the Louisiana Department of Education, or to students whose schools do not offer the course a student wants to take.
Course Choice is especially effective in combating discrepancies in educational access. A 2018 study by Excel in Ed, which analyzed data from the Department of Education, found that 13% of Louisiana’s public high schools did not offer algebra, 20% didn’t offer chemistry, and 67% didn’t offer calculus. This lack of access to fundamental math and science courses is particularly detrimental to those that want to pursue some form of higher education.
These courses are also essential to qualifying for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). TOPS is a program of state scholarships for Louisiana residents and requires that students complete a core curriculum that includes algebra and chemistry and some electives which include calculus. By earning these scholarships, students can make higher education more affordable for themselves and their families.
But which schools don’t have access to these key courses? According to the Excel in Ed’s report, public high schools are less likely to have access to these fundamental courses if the school has a higher population of minority students or students from low income households. In Louisiana, 29% of predominantly minority schools don’t offer chemistry, and 94% of predominantly low-income schools don’t offer calculus.
This study confirms the belief that some students are denied equal educational opportunity because of their zip code. By providing these students access to the courses their schools don’t offer through Course Choice, Louisiana can fulfill its moral obligation to provide every student a school that fits.
Thankfully, some Louisiana families have been taking advantage of Course Choice. Since being pioneered by Louisiana lawmakers, enrollment in the program has increased by 2,300% from around 2,200 in 2013 to over 54,000 in 2018. This rapid growth suggests a demand among Louisiana families for more educational freedom, and now it is up to the legislature to meet that demand by expanding eligibility for the program. Course Choice can and should be made more available so that even families in unique circumstances not covered by the existing program can find a school that fits their needs, and ultimately, creating a stronger workforce to bring jobs and opportunity to Louisiana.