Political Animal


July 02, 2012 2:59 PM Another Step Toward “Backpack” Vouchers

By Ed Kilgore

Bobby Jindal’s in the news today for something other than his threat to leave a big chunk of Louisianans without the health insurance they are supposed to receive via the Affordable Care Act. There are growing alarums about the impact on public education of his steadily expanding no-strings school voucher program, as TPM’s Casey Michel reports:

The voucher program Louisiana is slated to employ is much broader than other states. The vouchers, worth up to $8,800 annually, will be offered to students of families making under $60,000 and who are currently enrolled in a public school in which at least 25 percent of students test below grade level. So far, about 6,000 students have applied to the approximately 5,000 slots currently available in the approved private schools across the state, according to The Shreveport Times.
The following school year, however, will see the implementation of “mini-vouchers,” in which all students at the aforementioned schools, regardless of their family’s income, will be eligible for a $1,300 stipend to pay for private-school classes and apprenticeships. The voucher system would thus open up to nearly half of the state’s public school students. Since the public schools will lose commensurate funding every time one of their students opt for a voucher, the state’s public school system could by some estimates lose up to $3.3 billion annually once the program is fully implemented.

In heading his state in the direction of universally available vouchers rationalized by public school failure, Jindal is not, of course, holding any of the private school beneficiaries accountable for results, or for common curricula, or, it appears, for much of anything. A big chunk of the money already out there is being snapped up by conservative evangelical schools with exotic and hardly public-minded curricular offerings, with the theory being that any public oversight would interfere with the accountability provided by “the market.” So if you want your kid to attend, at public expense, the Christian Nationalist Academy for Servant-Leader Boys & Fecund Submissive Girls, that’s okay by Bobby.

This should be of note to non-Louisianans, not only because other Republican-governed states are headed in the same direction, but because the basic idea of “strapping public funds to kids’ backs” and sending it wherever parents choose is at the heart of Mitt Romney’s education platform. Sure, the federal government’s share of overall K-12 funding remains relatively small, but if you add “backpack vouchers” to those being offered by states, you are taking a big leap towards entirely privatized education.

Both voucher proponents and some progressives who oppose public school choice tend to blur the lines and suggest that the only alternatives are “backpack” vouchers and traditional public schools. The charter public schools promoted by the Obama administration (and often supported by Republicans who can’t get vouchers enacted), however, aim precisely in the opposite direction from what Romney and Jindal are proposing, with increased accountability for educational results being the be-all and end-all of funding decisions, and more, not less, public oversight of how schools perform and what they teach. They don’t always operate this way, of course, which helps keep the essential distinction between public and private schools hazy.

However you feel about charter schools or any strategy for educational improvement beyond increased funding, however, it’s important to understand the fundamental attack on the very idea of public education that universal, no-strings, “backpack” vouchers pose. If where parents decide, for whatever reason (religious or educational), to spend their money is to become the only standard for use of public funds, then why bother having public schools at all? There will be eventually room for most children at a rapidly growing industry of conservative Christian madrassas hungry for taxpayer dollars and young minds and souls.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Neil B on July 02, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Sure, and note the characteristically pitiful yet hilarious irony, of conservatives having no trouble providing generous welfare when it's something they can use to their advantage.

    "secession", great!

  • Texas Aggie on July 02, 2012 3:15 PM:

    Hey, it works for the prison system. Why not for public education?

    What? It doesn't work for the prison system? It's just a way of funneling taxpayer dollars into well connected private pockets? Then maybe it's not such a good idea for public education either.

    And the part that just irritates me to no end is that the right wing retrogrades insist that public education be accountable, but private educators don't have to be. It is so typical of the conservative mantra about how everyone else is supposed to be personally responsible, but they are the exception. They don't have to be.

  • emjayay on July 02, 2012 3:15 PM:

    Maybe someone will open a REAL madrassa and collect the vouchers. That'll serve 'em right.

  • Daniel Kim on July 02, 2012 3:22 PM:

    Without accountability, except that they can't be Islamic schools.


  • c u n d gulag on July 02, 2012 3:32 PM:

    Forty years from now, LA's latest in an endless string of Republican Governors, and LA private voucher-school grad, will give his/her "State of the State" speech, and here's the copy that they'll give to the press about education.

    "Ah stands befores y'all, 2 tells ya tha this grate staat ov Leweeziania, haz improovd da rats ov gradeemation frum skoolz 2 100 persent - if Kristian Kindregarten iz da bace fer ha solud edeemacashion.
    100 PERSENT, I tellz ya!
    Sew, thankc bee 2 Jeezus!
    Alls ov hour chillen no there letters - at least up to J for Jeezus, an' awl the didjits frum 1 to... watts dat numbah aftah ate? O ya, nian! Witch iz awl they kneed 2 no 2 wurk da feelds, ore attatch sum what-cha-macallimz at the factry payn them 8 sentz a our - a gud livin' wadge nowdayz 'n this ere state!

    'N remembur, Jeezus savez.
    'N itz da Saynts hoo scoor!"

    America as an "Idiocracy," here we come!

  • biggerbox on July 02, 2012 3:41 PM:

    I'm sure it will all work out. After all, Louisiana is already so well know for its general level of literacy and the high intellectual standard of its citizenry.

    How long before someone uncovers the "school" that is contracting its charges out to a sweat-shop or a road gang?

  • Mimikatz on July 02, 2012 3:53 PM:

    Yet one more example of how a party that has become captive to a bunch of grifters just keeps designing new ways to use the great honeypot of tax money (which they profess to hate) to line their and their friends pockets.

    Conservatives during the integration years accused liberals of using their children as guinea pigs for ideological ends, but that is really what is happening here. None of them seem to care whether their children is learning anything useful or valuable. No wonder Amrica can't compete.

  • emjayay on July 02, 2012 3:59 PM:

    Thanks Daniel Kim. I wonder why the Islamic school withdrew the application? As a HP commenter mentioned, what about yeshivas? If, as reported in the HP piece, a Xian school that for example has no library and has students mostly watch Xian DVD's all day can get vouchers, it doesn't look like any anti-madrassa anti-yeshiva, anti-Scientology or anti-anything else policy would be able to stand legally. Even in a retarded and corrupt place like LA.

    The HP piece goes on to mention the same I guess supporters of this voucher policy also want to bring prayer back to public schools. Big surprise. The big issue with public schools, at least for 75% of home schoolers, is that public schools insist on teaching actual science and stuff like that. The Xian DVD type schools should suit them fine and free up a lot of time for the Xian moms, who no doubt as subservient to their husbands who are the absolute bosses of the family and the Christ-appointed breadwinners, are virtually every one of the home school teachers.

  • Doug on July 02, 2012 4:59 PM:

    So, because of Jindal, and those who support him and his policies, we're going to end up with a vast number of functionally unemployable people? "Person skills" can only get you so far; say, McDonalds.
    How is he getting away with using public funds to send children to "religious" schools? It's one thing to provide lunches and/or health services to children attending religious-affiliated schools, quite another to PAY for the schools themselves.
    Once again, for the Republican elite, it's NOT about "religious" freedom or anything else. Big oil gets subsidies. The financial "gurus" get lower taxe rates. Jindal and HIS level of Republicans get money from the state to send THEIR kids to private schools; while hiding behind the false-front of "religious" freedom.

  • W. Royal Stokes on July 02, 2012 6:36 PM:

    Read public education authority Diane Ravitch’s “The Miseducation of Mitt Romney” for an excellent account of Romney’s plans to gut the publication education system if elected.

  • James E. Powell on July 02, 2012 6:54 PM:

    with increased accountability for educational results being the be-all and end-all of funding decisions, and more, not less, public oversight of how schools perform and what they teach.

    What you mean to say is that all funding will be tied to students' scores on standardized, multiple-choice tests. Phrases like 'educational results' and 'how schools perform' are merely bureaucrat-speak for test scores. Add in that, for reasons that are never made clear, teachers' pay and pensions must be reduced.

    That teachers, through their unions and otherwise, oppose these things because they are bad ideas just never seems to cross the minds of people who are sure, despite no experience or evidence, that they know exactly what to do with public education.

  • billb on July 02, 2012 10:47 PM:

    c'mon y'all get with the flow , I urge you to link with the
    slowest growing religion , based upon the Big Lebowski.
    Really who needs to know about I. Newton / A. Einstein etc.
    Those folk in LA are never gonna be scientists and architects .
    Leave that for NY and Ca peeps.

    If they want religious schools then give them some !


  • LA Researcher on July 03, 2012 8:06 AM:

    On Meet The Press, Jindal criticized Obama for passing healthcare in the Senate without a single republican vote. That's strange criticism from a Governor whose speaker of the LA House, Chuck Kleckly, changed the rules to pass Jindal's ed reform legislation.

  • lou on July 03, 2012 3:13 PM:

    The part that kills me is the Christian schools using a textbook that claims the Loch Ness monster is real as proof that evolution isn't.