Louisiana’s push for vouchers is historic, rewarding – Eric Lewis, podcastED

Louisiana is the center of the school choice universe right now. Last week, the state House passed a bill that creates a statewide voucher program for low-income students (expanding the one now limited to New Orleans). And this week, it passed a bill that creates a statewide tax-rebate scholarship (which is something like a tax credit scholarship).

The Louisiana campaign has been “historic” and “rewarding,” Eric Lewis, director of the state chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, says in this podcast. The choice programs, which are expected to clear the Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, are “going to greatly change the landscape of education in Louisiana,” he says.

Clearly, though, the debate isn’t over. The bill that includes the voucher program leaves creation of accountability provisions to the Louisiana Department of Education and Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. BAEO supports some type of regulatory action, Lewis says, for private schools that don’t show academic gains for voucher students.

“We want parents to be able to exercise choice, and we want to empower them to do so,” he says. “But we also want to make certain that while we’re fighting to pull the poor kids out of failing public schools, we’re not putting them in a situation where they’re entering sub-par private schools.”

“What we will want to see is the department and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education set up some process where, if at some point in time, after some given period of time, schools are not able to show growth with the kids, then some measure needs to be put in place to recompense that,” Lewis continues. “There needs to be some type of threshold where you know it’s clear that it’s not working with a particular school, and so kids shouldn’t continue to matriculate within that school.”

Lewis also credits the 12 Democrats, including six black Democrats, who voted for vouchers despite what he calls “incredible heat.” One political blog said the 12 “Jindal Democrats” were motivated by politics, money, re-election, selfishness, fear and “general spinelessness.”

“It was intense,” Lewis says. “I applaud all 12 of them for standing up for kids, and standing up for what they felt was right.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.