School Choice Is Exploding Across America: What About Louisiana?
Governors and lawmakers across the country are expanding school choice in big ways. Last year, Arizona and West Virginia became the first states to provide all families with access to funds to send their child to a school that best fits their needs, unlike other smaller state programs that are only open to certain groups of kids. Already in 2023, two more states, Iowa and Utah, have followed.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds described it as “funding students instead of a system.” She went on to say, “Public schools are the foundation of our educational system, and for most families, they’ll continue to be the option of choice. But they aren’t the only choice. And for some families, a different path may be better for their children.”
Governors in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia have also made universal school choice top priority for 2023, and similar efforts are underway in Idaho, Indiana, Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, and Wyoming.
Yesterday, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who delivered an impressive response to President Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this week in which she mentioned the need to empower parents when it comes to their children’s education, unveiled a massive K-12 education reform package that includes a new universal school choice program that will phase in over a few years. “Our new education freedom account allows parents to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate for their family, whether it be public, private, parochial, or homeschool,” she said.
Two recent census-balanced surveys commissioned by the National School Choice Week Foundation, a nonpolitical 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, showed that parents are increasingly seeking more school options for their kids. Nearly 54% of parents surveyed earlier this year said they thought about, considered, searched for, or chose a new or different school or learning environment.
These findings were consistent with another post-pandemic survey conducted last spring by Tyton Partners, an investment banking and consulting firm that examines pandemic-related shifts in education. It showed that parents want greater control of their kids’ education. Fifty-nine percent of participants said their educational preferences changed post-pandemic. Fifty-one percent said personal interest and needs should drive a child’s education, and nearly 80% said learning can and should happen anywhere.
“What we’re hearing from parents loud and clear is they feel a greater sense of ownership over their child’s education,” said Tyton’s Christian Lehr. “The last two years have been incredibly difficult. Now, parents are actively searching for new experiences that will deliver on academic promises, yes, but also bring joy and delight.”
How do these programs work? In simple terms, states provide families access to all or a portion of the funds that the state would have otherwise spent on their child’s education in a public school. Parents can use those funds to enroll their child in any qualifying school – public, private, or homeschool – that the family believes will best meet the child’s individual needs. The programs provide for participating schools to continue measuring and reporting student achievement and contain safeguards to ensure that funds are spent only on allowable educational services and instructional materials.
Critics, mainly teachers’ unions and leaders of the public school establishment, argue that these programs jeopardize public school funding and quality. Yet, dozens of studies have proven those claims to be false. Institute for Justice, a nonprofit, public interest law firm, dispelled these and other myths in its 12 Myths and Realities about Public Educational Choice Programs. The group stated:
“Publicly funded education needs real and dramatic change, and educational choice programs are a powerful catalyst for reform. These programs take power away from an education establishment (public sector unions, reform-blocking state departments of education, and self-serving school administrators) that seeks to preserve the status quo. The programs then transfer that power back to parents, who know better than almost anyone what kind of educational environment will best suit the needs of their children.”
Louisiana, which last expanded choice across public and non-public schools for a limited number of children in 2012, continues to deny thousands access to a school that fits their needs. In addition to limiting access via family income requirements, special education status or medical diagnosis, and enrollment in a failing school, current programs include several burdensome requirements that cause many schools to not participate.
At the same time, Louisiana public schools have still not fully recovered from the effects of the pandemic, which shut down schools; only 31% of students attending public schools are at or above proficiency. Thousands of public high school graduates continue to require academic remediation in their first year of college – a whopping 41% in math. The state spends more per student than any other state in the Southeast, with some of the worst outcomes.
Enrollment in Louisiana public schools has continued to decline, while the number of kids enrolled in homeschool programs and smaller private schools have skyrocketed in recent years. This tells us that parents that have the means to choose a different school or educational program for their child are doing so, but thousands cannot afford to do so. Other states’ leaders have stepped up to rectify this, but in Louisiana, two bills to expand school choice were vetoed last year by the governor.
Louisiana cannot continue denying its children and families the opportunity to get a great education and achieve a bright future. We must ensure that all children have access to educational freedom by having the ability to choose a school that meets their individual needs. It’s what our children and families deserve, and we aim to make it a top priority as our state enters another election season and new gubernatorial and legislative terms begin in 2024. We refuse to allow Louisiana’s kids to be left behind.