by Kenneth Campbell
This week, NBC’s Education Nation is visiting New Orleans on its national tour to get a first-hand look at education challenges and opportunities being faced by local regions. On a national scale, Louisiana, more particularly New Orleans, has long been considered a hotbed for education reform. But this week’s visit is another chance to zero in on the many changes that have taken place and the progress that has been made as part of the massive reform movement that has emerged. Long before the state took on a national profile, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) was at the forefront of the education reform movement in Louisiana – advocating on behalf of parents and students and fighting for expanded educational options across the state.
It’s no secret that in the last few years, Louisiana has adopted a number of education reforms centered on school choice and teacher accountability, among other key issues. Just last year, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law one of the most advanced and comprehensive education reform bills in the nation. BAEO has been on the ground for more than a decade to help bring these reforms to life.
Early on, we waged a battle against the status quo and promoted the belief that students must come first in all efforts to improve education in Louisiana. We provided a voice for Black children from low-income and working-class families and demanded they have an equal opportunity to compete and succeed. We have seen parents asking for help to rescue their children from failing schools and we have seen the passage and implementation of a comprehensive scholarship “voucher” program that allowed thousands of Louisiana children to trade their destitute educational environments for private schools that gave them hope and a greater chance to achieve. Along the way, we’ve helped parents fight for “choice” and “options,” as well as navigate the system and better leverage the options that are available to them today.
And while there is much more work to be done, we are proud today to see Louisiana has come a long way because of education reform. Today, many of the parents we met early on are reaping the benefits of their hard work and commitment to advocating for their children. Even more, we see those parents feeling empowered, standing up and volunteering to be a voice, not only for their children, but for all of the children who deserve access to a high-quality education.
With Education Nation in our state this week, we are encouraged to share the many stories that paint a picture of just how far we’ve come as well as how far we still have to go. Just last month, BAEO’s Louisiana team joined hundreds of parents and supporters on the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court to fight to protect the Louisiana Scholarship program. Examples like this give other states a first-hand look at how quality programs can transform the lives of families and help to chip away at the achievement gap. And after being part of this movement for more than a decade, we know it can be done.
So this week, we can show the country the fruits of the hard work of many in this great state who have been fighting for years for improved educational options for our children. BAEO is excited to see this work gain a national profile and, as an organization committed to empowering parents and putting kids first, we are further energized to build on years of progress.