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…..so, why don’t we progressives appropriate it for OUR purposes???