Using ALEC Playbook, Bobby Jindal Radically Reshapes Public Education
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Jindal’s set of reforms hews closely to the model reform legislation set out by ALEC, which advocates for the privatization of traditionally public services, like health care, prisons and education. ALEC and Jindal’s school agenda is driven by a conservative ideology that believes private markets can help introduce efficiency and healthy competition into public institutions. As ALEC’s education report card in 2010 laid out, “Families need a market for K-12 schools. The market mechanism rewards success, and either improves or eliminates failure.”
ALEC and Jindal have kept close ties for some time now, education watchers in the state say.
“This is really ALEC at work. It’s a feather in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s cap—he has spent a lot of time traveling around the country lining up donor money and now he can say Louisiana is one of the few states that has a large choice environment,” said Harper, who pointed out that many of the key committee members who supported the legislation are ALEC members or have received campaign contributions from groups with ties to ALEC. Indeed, at its annual meeting last August, ALEC recognized Jindal with its coveted Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award for “outstanding public service.”
“It was a huge defeat for us,” said Damekia Morgan, the statewide educational policy and campaign director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.
Public ‘Accountability,’ Private Free-for-All
Critics say the rushed process hampered conversation on the bills. The voucher bill in particular is still light on specifics about implementation. The state has yet to create a plan for evaluating the private schools that take public vouchers. Evaluation wasn’t even mentioned until a vague amendment that calls for “an accountability system for participating students at participating schools” to be hammered out by the state board of education by Aug. 1.
The lack of an accountability plan is telling, says Morgan. The standards that are devised don’t need to come again before the public before they are codified. “This is all supposedly about demanding accountability for public schools and here we’re handing off our students to private schools without any checks,” Harper also said.
In addition, the parent trigger provisions are also too vague, education advocates say. In California, the lack of specificity around that state’s parent trigger law led to protracted court battles when a community first made use of the law.
These sorts of bills have an undeniable appeal for parents, especially poor parents of color who’ve been locked out of decision making circles and feel like their concerns have often gone ignored by public school administrators. Yet education advocates say that these bills provide only the veneer of choice for parents, while removing parents’ avenues for demanding accountability via collective action.
The parent trigger portion of the new Louisiana laws, for instance, allows for public schools to be converted only to charter schools. The laws give parents no avenue for re-triggering a failing charter school, of which there are many. And while lawmakers hope that parents feel empowered by school vouchers, their options for where they can place their children will be limited to the private school options on the table.
“Clearly these options are not full choice for parents,” said Andre Perry, associate director of Loyola University’s New Orleans’ Institute for Quality and Equity in Education. Perry said his concern was that these reforms, while bold, don’t get to the heart of how educational inequity is created in the first place. Instead, what lawmakers are voting for, Perry said, “is a belief in a philosophy that’s being applied in the name of choice.”