Louisiana has been hard at work expanding its school voucher program recently, and we’re already beginning to see the results. They’re not good.
The Louisiana Department of Education has just said the New Living Word School in Ruston (near Shreveport) can take up to 315 students through the state’s Minimum Foundation “scholarship” program. The program allows students at “failing” public schools to attend alternate public or private schools provided their household income is no more than 250 percent of the poverty level.
The New Living Word School, which is run by a church, currently has 122 students. Assuming it ends up with the full 315 students, it will have the most seats for Minimum Foundation Program students in the state. It will also get $2.7 million in taxpayer money, and students who attend the school will be transported there by public school buses.
Aside from the constitutionally murky problem of giving state dollars to a school run by a church, this particular school is simply not up to the task of educating 315 students. According to the Monroe News Star, the New Living Word School doesn’t have a large enough building, enough computers, enough desks or enough teachers for that many kids.
The newspaper said the state didn’t bother to check whether or not the school can actually handle 315 students because it isn’t required to. All state officials have to do is conduct a phone interview and verify that the school is state approved and doesn’t discriminate based on race.
Department of Education spokeswoman Rene Greer said parents have the opportunity to tour schools before enrolling their kids and that the Minimum Foundation Program “is designed to empower parents to make choices,” according to the News Star.
But fear not, naysayers. New Living Word principal and church pastor, the Rev. Jerry Baldwin, has a plan! Sort of.
Baldwin said the school is moving forward “on faith” and that New Living Word will begin construction this summer on a 12,000-square-foot building that will hold 16 classrooms, according to the report.
If the construction isn’t complete in time, however, Baldwin has yet another suspect plan. He said the school can accommodate the new students in the church’s gym. When asked by the News Star about the lack of computers and desks, Baldwin claimed he knows someone who may be able to build desks quickly and, “You don’t need a computer on the first day of school.”
This building is pretty critical to the school’s operations because it’s highly questionable whether its current crop of 122 students is being properly accommodated now. Classes are being held in Sunday school classrooms. These classrooms have a video monitor, no computers and only long desks that serve about 11 students, according to the News Star.
Baldwin told the newspaper that primary instruction for students at his school comes from watching DVDs, while a teacher is there mainly to manage the class, review homework, answer questions and give assignments.
This shocking story shows precisely what’s wrong with private schools that accept vouchers – they aren’t held to the same standards of accountability as traditional public schools, yet states treat them as a solution to their education problems.
Would the state of Louisiana allow a public school that lacks even the most basic necessities to educate students to more than double its enrollment? I would hope not.
Instead of making bad schools even worse by taking away their resources, Louisiana should spend some time trying to make its public schools better. There’s no easy way to do that, but sending children who need the most assistance to church schools that can’t provide it is not only doing those children a disservice, it’s doing the Constitution a disservice as well.