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Learning at its Best

Could Vouchers in Louisiana Be the Crowbar Needed to Get Progressive Alternatives Widely Accepted?

This morning, one of my graduate students sent me a link to a fascinating article about Louisiana’s new voucher program. In a nutshell, starting this fall, families with incomes of $58,000 or less, whose children now attend a public school where at least 25 percent of students test below grade level, are eligible to get a voucher for each child. This voucher can be used as a sort of coupon at various private schools to cover part of the tuition (or all of it, depending on how high the school’s tuition is and how much the voucher is worth). Not only will these vouchers/coupons cover private school tuition, the article continued, but next year, “students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.”

The article went on to discuss that most any private school is eligible to accept vouchers, this includes a number of religious schools that teach only creationism (and attempt to debunk evolution), schools that teach the children solely through DVDs or Christian workbooks, prestigious schools that are only willing to accept fewer than 5 students, and only at the kindergarten level, and so on.

While part of me is deeply troubled by vouchers and how they tend to have a segregationist effect (e.g. only certain parents can really exercise this “free choice” for their children’s benefit… parents who are educated enough to do the research, have the mobility/transportation to check out all the various private schools as well as to get their children to school each day, whose children can meet selective admissions requirements, etc.), another part of me is sort of excited about the potential such a new law has for educational alternatives of the more progressive bent. For example, I have long wished to start a school of my own that was not solely dependent on private dollars from families (and thus bound to serve only an affluent population), and such a voucher system could potentially allow for this. Were I to start such a school, I would very deliberately work to educate those parents disenfranchised by their education level about my school, as well as attempt to set up some sort of equitable transportation arrangements, so as to mitigate some of the more segregationist effects of the voucher program.

If Louisiana is willing to allow state tax monies to go to schools that teach a very specific Christian philosophy, wouldn’t they also allow vouchers to go to free/democratic schools, community learning centers, Waldorf schools, Montessori schools, Quaker schools, parent cooperative schools, and so on? Are there folks in Louisiana on the progressive side of the educational spectrum poised to take advantage of this new law? Will there be an influx of such educators into Louisiana?

The concept of charter schools was originally a progressive idea that got appropriated by conventional-minded, market-oriented conservatives and has been used to their advantage. Vouchers currently tend to be a conservative-supported concept…, why don’t we progressives appropriate it for OUR purposes???

About Kristan Morrison

Dr. Kristan Accles Morrison taught for seven years at conventional middle schools in North Carolina, which drove her to research alternative forms of education based on critical pedagogy and social justice. She earned her Ph.D. in the Cultural Foundations of Education from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and is now a professor in a teacher education program at Radford University, where she makes a point of introducing her students to educational alternatives. In this blog, Kristan reflects on her attempts to bridge the worlds of conventional and “alternative” forms of education. She considers how to bring more democratic and freedom-based practices into the realm of standard education, and how to discuss educational alternatives with a conventional audience. She explores the paradox of many teacher educators: preparing her students for teaching in the schools as they are, while also preparing them to help create the schools that could be.


14 thoughts on “Could Vouchers in Louisiana Be the Crowbar Needed to Get Progressive Alternatives Widely Accepted?

  1. I sometimes think along the same lines, but, golly, “separate is NEVER equal”…

    Posted by Brent Snavely | June 2, 2012, 11:04 am
  2. I am not a fan of this at all. I’m all for choice and progressive schools opening up, and being able to provide a experience not offered anywhere else. However this is nothing more than the privatization of public school, which is not in the best interest of democracy or anyone. The vast majority of Privatized schools are not those of progressive bent, and they do not in the end help to change the system. This will end up bad. They do not call for accountability of these private schools, a number of private school do not use Standardized testing, many of these school are more traditional and backwards than any public school.

    Instead of continuing to take money away from schools and expect them to change, we should instead remove many of the barriers to change. One of those barriers is continuing de-funding of schools. I am all for fighting for different options for parents, but I don’t think vouchers are the best option. What if instead of privatizing public schoola, we allow more Public schools be more independent. Let schools have more autonomy to choose their curriculum, their pedagogy, their teachers to teach and allow leaders to be leaders instead of dictators.

    I just yesterday visited an amazing full public school, that is built on everything I would want my own imagined school to be. It was build on respect, driven by real world learning, student driven emergent projects, relationship, growth model assessment, care, and love.

    We all know what schools need to be truly successful.

    Public schools can and need to be the place for those types of schools. Privatizing education with public money will never be the answer.

    Posted by dloitz | June 2, 2012, 11:28 am
    • Thanks for your comments, Dloitz! I completely agree with everything you said. My post was mainly a “what if” wondering, and you and the others below raise some extremely salient points to show that the potential future would likely be bad.

      Posted by Kristan Morrison | June 2, 2012, 4:11 pm
  3. Warning! If you have any such real plans, you must first have been in the “business” for a number of years before you can be considered for voucher acceptance.

    Posted by Kathy | June 2, 2012, 3:27 pm
  4. Very bad idea. The notion of playing off disaster capitalist methods makes me ill. They must be fought tooth and nail. Thinking you can use screwed up methods to make wonderful things happen sounds great until you discover that the means have a bad habit of determining the ends. The two previous comments reflect many of my own views on these issues, and I can think of few things more evil than Bobby Jindal’s latest assault on democracy and education.

    Posted by Michael Paul Goldenberg | June 2, 2012, 3:29 pm
    • I agree in principle with David and Michael, but if such a law existed in my state and a family came to my private school saying, “I can’t afford to pay any tuition, but the State Supt will pay your school $ X, 000 for my child to be able to attend your school. Do you want it?” I’d have to think long and hard. Might depend on what strings are attached. Inevitably there will be strings.

      Posted by Paul Freedman | June 2, 2012, 4:31 pm
  5. I think the conversation around how to provide education alternatives is important. I think independent and interdependent schools are important. I do there a difference between vouchers and helping those that can’t afford alternatives to be helped.

    Not sure I have the answer, but think so kind of tax discount base on income. I hate added process, but think there would need to be a process where teachers and parents could petition the district to convert or open new innovative schools… on a trial basis. I think community based and driven Charter provide this in their ideal state unlike the franchise model which are not about innovation, but profit. If an school can’t be created, than income based discounts via tax breaks or redirection of funds should be offered to provide the schools for the students… schools like Salmonberry.

    This again does not help parents who are unaware of alternatives. I believe we need to invest a lot more in adult education.

    What is happening in LA is not about anything i just talked about… it is a way to bankroll private schools not provide innovation or more quality education for undeserved students… if so they should be working to actually improve the schools that are there.


    Posted by dloitz | June 2, 2012, 6:22 pm
  6. Just found this…Via Are Charter Schools Public Schools?
    By Diane Ravitch

    “Budde saw charters as a way to reorganize public school districts and to provide more freedom for teachers. He envisioned teams of teachers asking for a charter for three to five years, during which time they would operate with full autonomy over curriculum and instruction, with no interference from the superintendent or the principal.

    Shanker thought that charter schools should be created by teams of teachers who would explore new ways to reach unmotivated students. He envisioned charter schools as self-governing, as schools that encouraged faculty decisionmaking and participatory governance. He imagined schools that taught by coaching rather than lecturing, that strived for creativity and problem-solving rather than mastery of standardized tests or regurgitation of facts. He never thought of charters as non-union schools where teachers would work 70-hour weeks and be subject to dismissal based on the scores of their students.”

    Pretty close to what I just describe….

    Posted by dloitz | June 2, 2012, 6:37 pm
  7. I’ll save what I think of the Ravitch article for a friendly conversation over drinks sometime…

    I ama whole-hearted proponent of democratic and free education inside communities. However, it’s one thing for a community to voluntarily offer up apprenticeships and opportunities for kids; it’s another to ask families to pay; it’s yet another to give families money to leave public schools while gutting public schools without letting them become something more competitive than test mills.

    The general reformy assumption that private schools – and many charters – are somehow non-traditional is flawed, as is the assumption that schools cannot become hubs of learning in community. Naked political and economic ambition – the preservation of privilege – is strangling schools and hurting those in them. We should be letting schools evolve, not hunting them down.

    I would be okay with a tuition-free system of traditional-school alternatives that inspire schools to change through competition, but only if schools were free to change. They aren’t, though, so that leaves me in a kind of limbo – I am fine with the transformation of schools into something else, but I can’t countenance the enforced impoverishment of schools and their inhabitants. I don’t even want more resources or money, per se, just the freedom to pursue authentic learning. No voucher can yet guarantee that.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 3, 2012, 9:53 am
  8. I support school choice, but wasn’t sure where I stood on school vouchers until I did some research for my Public Policy class. I found that vouchers are merely a band-aid trying to fix much larger issues in education.

    The state of Ohio has had a voucher program in place for several years. The guidelines for the program pretty clearly target giving aid to those who need it most. Vouchers are only available for students attending public schools that are failing and first priority is given to those applicants at the federal poverty level. Every year the program has grown and every year, there has always been enough leftover vouchers for students whose parents could actually afford private school tuition. The students who are left behind in the failing schools are often the ones who need help the most, but their parents are too busy (working multiple jobs and/or not able to provide transportation), too poor (not able to supplement scholarship monies to match tuition) or too disinterested (not engaged in their child’s learning enough to seek out other options) to actually take advantage of the private school option through vouchers.

    Another problem with vouchers is that private schools can reject applicants where public schools cannot. Increasingly public schools have been dealing with this lack of choice through enacting zero tolerance policies for discipline issues. This recipe for disaster has led to a school-to-prison pipeline that is disproportionately affecting minorities and students with special needs at failing schools. The other choice that is often not given to parents is to enroll their child at an out of district public school. Kelley Williams-Bolar of Ohio learned this lesson the hard way as she was convicted of a felony for using her father’s address to claim residency status so her children could attend a higher-performing suburban school.

    Advocates for vouchers point to “free choice” as their main rationale. However, the reality is that this choice is not free. Not all families can take advantage of the choice and the choice costs struggling public schools valuable resources. I do agree with advocates that forcing parents to have their children attend “understaffed and under-maintained facilities in which educators are under-qualified and student achievement suffers” is a problem, but a voucher system doesn’t seen to be the solution.

    more @

    Posted by Kim Wilkens (@kimxtom) | June 3, 2012, 11:20 am
  9. I am curious if you would be willing to point me towards data that supports your assertion about a “segregationist effect” of vouchers? I am not familiar with studies of voucher programs and would be grateful for some leads.

    Posted by Don Berg | June 3, 2012, 11:45 pm


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