The United States has dropped far down the ladder in comparing educational achievement with other countries in grades six through twelve. No longer are we the leaders or anywhere close to the top.
Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, has been an effective leader in improving achievement in that state. He has put into effect a school voucher program which aims to give low income kids in terrible schools the opportunity at attend better public schools and even private schools.
Here's how it works: public schools receive grades from A to F that tell teachers, parents and policymakers how these schools are performing. A school that receives an F means at least one-half of its students are performing below grade level. Low income students attending a failing school are eligible to apply for a voucher and money that would otherwise go to their local school can be used to pay for tuition at a better performing private or public school.
What Jindal has done is to bring into play an element of capitalism and competition into our pathetic public school system that has been deteriorating at an alarming rate.
Participating parents overwhelmingly like the program and they have given an astounding 93 percent vote of approval. Last year 10,000 students applied for vouchers and 5,000 received them. This year the applicants jumped to 12,000 and 8,000 vouchers were approved. This improvement has been completed with an average cost of 60 percent of what would otherwise be spent.
It sounds like a win-win situation with a Republican governor as a leader out of the black swamp of educational grime. Not so fast. We can't have this go on because already other states are following Louisiana's lead. What will happen to the fraud and the political patriotism that has established itself in public schools? Remember what happened a few years ago in Little Rock when the superintendent laid off about 200 union employees and tried to fire ineffective teachers. The school board consisting of established Democrat partisans reversed his actions and got rid of this insolent superintendent. His sin after all, was an attempt to change things and improve.
In Louisiana the liberals have been fighting the voucher system from the beginning. The teachers unions took it all the way to the Supreme Court. This high court ruled the voucher program was constitutional but that funding it through the general education budget wasn't. So Jindal and the legislature made it a line item instead.
Having accomplished this it would sound like Jindal and those for educational reform have fought valiantly, won the battle and all is well. Not quite. They hadn't considered the enemy facing us in every aspect of today's life – the federal government.
On Friday August 23rd Governor Jindal learned Attorney General Eric Holder was suing to block the schools voucher program. That's right. Destroy the program that is finally starting to bloom. This is consistent with Holder's actions dictated by our president who wants nothing but equality for all even if that means bringing all of us down to the lowest standard of mediocrity. In Holder's mind that's okay as long as no one gets ahead of another.
Page 2 of 2 - The Justice Department, despite studies showing the exact opposite, claims the two year old program could interfere with federal desegregation orders in several Louisiana parishes from the civil rights era. What a crock! Jindal says, "It is ironic the Obama administration and the attorney general would actually try to use our civil rights laws to force our minority children to fail in public schools. It is an abomination and completely ridiculous."
What's happening in Louisiana could definitely affect us in Arkansas and in Heber Springs. Some progress is being made in our state but if we really attempt anything different or, heaven forbid, bring in an element of competition, watch out.
Just this week we had a school board election in Heber Springs. Ask this newly elected board member and other members what they are doing to improve our education system that is paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Ask them if they have considered changes such as merit pay for teachers. It is my understanding the only two ways a teacher receives a raise is seniority or take additional college courses. What about performance? Ask them if our administration has competent principals or is there a tendency to use retired athletic coaches as principals whether qualified or not. Also ask them what is being done to retire ineffective
teachers – we all know there are some. We have competent board members and I bet they would appreciate your interest.
(Jerry Jackson of Heber Springs writes his "conservative viewpoint" column each week)