Political Animal


December 12, 2012 2:09 PM Schools Without Accountability Aren’t “Public”

By Ed Kilgore

In the eternal conservative battle to insist Americans must choose between traditional public schools exactly as they are today, and use of tax dollars to indiscriminately subsidize private schools (mostly religious schools, and many teaching a militantly ideological secular sectarian agenda), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has become a field marshall. And even though his own voucher program has been struck down by state courts in Louisiana, he appeared this week at the Brookings Institution to demand the same old false choices in the name of “choice”:

Speaking at Brookings, Jindal defended the legality of the vouchers, saying that the money was still being used to publicly educate students, just not through public schools.
“To me it’s pretty obvious that we don’t fund bricks and mortar, we’re funding students’ education,” he said.

Yes, but without accountability to the public. Genuine charter public schools are based on explicit contract agreements between public officials and charter operators that not only demand free and equal access, but performance benchmarks more specific than those of traditional public schools. That’s not how private schools receiving public funds, whether they call themselves “charters” or not, function in Louisiana, where the official ideology is that parents have the sole power to determine whether this or that school is doing a sufficient job. This approach not only disenfranchises other parents, and other taxpayers without school-age children, from any say over the use of public educational dollars (a strong prescription in the long run for undermining public support of education, it should be obvious), but encourages parents to allow non-educational factors to influence their “choice,” with the most obvious being religion. So you wind up heading in the direction where Louisiana’s program was going until the courts stepped in: a vast system for replacing public schools with a network of private schools dominated by conservative evangelical madrassas where students are instructed to hold secular society in fear and contempt.

It works very well as a way to reward conservative political constituencies, which if you are Bobby Jindal, and thinking about higher office, may be the whole point.

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.


  • Josef K on December 12, 2012 2:22 PM:

    I wonder how great the outcry will be when some of the 'graduates' of these charter 'schools' won't be able to get into college because they've shown they can't read beyond a 1st grade level, and can't distinguish between an atom and an ant, and can't even name their home state capital.

    Heck, I wonder how many of these charter 'schools' wouldn't be considered "madrasas" under slightly different religious creeds.

  • c u n d gulag on December 12, 2012 2:25 PM:

    We, as a country, as a society, have an obligation to use our time and tax dollars to educate children to a certain minimum standard - if we hope to stay a relevant country and society.

    Parent's, like these Evangelical Christians, can spend their own money trying to turn their children back into feckin' idiots, like their parents, on their own time.

    Oh, if only we gave people exposure to religion only AFTER they had become adults, what a better world we'd live in!

  • rea on December 12, 2012 2:59 PM:

    Oh, if only we gave people exposure to religion only AFTER they had become adults

    Southen Bapitists traditionally reject infant baptism, ironically.

  • Sean Scallon on December 12, 2012 3:27 PM:

    Yes, but without accountability to the public.

    I would be careful trumpeting such public "accountability" because vouchers would not be seen as an alternative to the ills of public education if people felt such schools were so easily held accountable. Whether it's the inability to quickly bad teachers, to dealing with administration, to trying to fix bad test scores, many have been sold on the idea they can have more power to decide their child's education if they just put tax dollars into institutions not tied down by public law. They're wrong but it's a seductive idea.

  • Doug on December 12, 2012 5:23 PM:

    I would not oppose a voucher plan that said any school accepting a public education voucher had to accept it as full payment for all tuition and fees. I do not like the idea of taxpayers subsidizing the private school education of middle class children.

  • Doug on December 12, 2012 5:49 PM:

    I have to disagree with my namesake's first sentence. There should be NO use of public funds for ANY private school serving upper, middle or lower class children.
    If a school district doesn't have the tax base to provide a decent education, state authorities should have the resources available to "top up" that particular school district's funds. As much local control as possible should be retained over educational conditions; teachers, administration, buildings, but in the long, and short, run how our children are educated affects us all and should be the concern of everyone.

  • BillB on December 12, 2012 10:49 PM:

    Public education has two purposes, one is clearly teaching facts and figures, math and science, etc. The second , and possibly more important for our country's future, is socialization. Kids need to be in public school to learn how to get along with others who are not like them, others who are poorer and richer.
    Kids are supremely good at figuring this out if we give them a decent public school to learn in. If we chicken out and let rude vocal jeebus freaks demand private use of our public money, then our country is done for.