February 1 2010
Empowering Parents in the Pelican State
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D
The Pelican State holds critical lessons for adopting student vouchers, according to a new analysis by Louisiana native and Harvard researcher Michael Henderson. This is welcome news since in recent years similar programs have been scaled back or eliminated in Washington, DC, Utah, Arizona, and Florida.
In 2008, the Louisiana legislature passed the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. Under the program, low-income New Orleans students in grades K-3 attending large, failing school districts are eligible for vouchers to attend the public or private school of their choice. From the start, the program has been popular with parents. As of the 2009-10 school year, the program's second year, 1,324 New Orleans students attended 31 private schools using vouchers worth up to $7,138.
Such success is even more striking since the Louisiana legislature rejected about 20 student voucher proposals in the decade preceding the 2008 legislative session. "Passage of a voucher bill required political change," according to Henderson. "The political story of every reform will have some unique features...[but] none is too uniquely Louisianan to be inimitable." Specifically:
1) a union presence weakened by the state takeover of failing schools along with reports of its own misdeeds;
2) parent-based lobbying support;
3) new faces in the legislature; and
4) strong gubernatorial support, in this case from Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican.
"With this program, Louisiana has proved to the nation that legislators can and should work together in a bipartisan way to pass meaningful laws that positively impact the lives of low-income children," explained program co-author State Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans). Co-author and State Rep. Austin J. Badon (D-New Orleans) concurred, "Every child in Louisiana deserves the best education possible."