The ongoing disgrace that is the Louisiana voucher plan continues to scandalize. This is a pretty impressive feat, considering that the program hasn’t even been fully implemented yet.
“The Wall of Separation” has reported previously about how leaders of religious schools are using the taxpayer funds to increase enrollment and how some schools plan to teach creationism and other discredited ideas.
How did schools like this get into the program? The good people of Louisiana may never know. John White, the state’s education superintendent, says he’ll discuss later what criteria were applied.
James Gill, a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, suspects that there aren’t any standards.
“The question may not be what criteria the state applied, but whether it applied any criteria at all,” Gill wrote. “Public record requests for documentation that might throw some light on that have been stonewalled. An education department flack told the Associated Press that ‘providing outdated information may cause confusion to parents who are trying to make decisions around their participation the program.’ Evidently the Louisiana education department hasn’t heard that ‘Don't confuse them with the facts’ is supposed to be a joke.”
Meanwhile, the Monroe News Star has reported that state officials are hard at work to make the playing field as tilted as possible toward private schools. Starting this year, Louisiana public schools will use a “Common Core Curriculum” that is widely acknowledged to be more challenging. Private schools are free to ignore it.
The newspaper reported that private schools applying to the program must complete a form requesting “name, email and physical address and phone number of the school, whether the principal is certified, an estimated number of students, a mission statement, goals and objectives, daily schedules for pre-kindergarten through high school and a school calendar and projected student enrollment for each grade.”
That’s it. They aren’t required to provide information about what they plan to teach. As a result, schools like this one run by a man who heads up several dubious non-profit groups and calls himself a “prophet” are raking in taxpayer money.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the core curriculum and what many private schools teach will occur in science classes. Under the core curriculum, students will start leaning about evolution in the fourth grade, and it will be especially stressed in high school classes.
Religious schools that receive vouchers are under no obligation to teach evolution. In fact, many of the fundamentalist academies plan to teach creationism instead. Louisiana was subjected to international ridicule when word got out that some schools taking part in the voucher plan are using a biology textbook produced by a fundamentalist Christian publisher arguing that the legendary Loch Ness Monster in Scotland might be a living dinosaur, whose existence disproves evolution.
Some of you might be tempted to shake your heads and say, “That’s Louisiana!” I’d urge you not be complacent. The same big-bucks voucher advocates who brought Louisiana to this point are eyeing other states as well.
A voucher front group run by multi-millionaire Betsy DeVos is currently on the move in Wisconsin, looking to expand that state’s voucher plan – even though numerous studies have shown that it does not boost the academic performance of children taking part.
Voucher plans nearly passed this year in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; both states expect to see a re-match next year. Other states are also being targeted.
If you don’t want your state’s educational system to look like Louisiana’s, you’d better sit up and take notice. The public schools are under assault from the well-funded forces of sectarian zeal and privatization. They need your help.