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Jindal’s Voucher Program Isn’t Much Of A Legacy Scholarship Program Has Produced Dismal Academic Results

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When he officially suspended his quixotic presidential bid last month, Bobby Jindal finally did what many of us in the Bayou State had been asking him to do for some time: He stopped talking. Unfortunately, our respite has been short-lived, as this week Jindal embarked on a “farewell tour” across a state which is more than glad to see him go.

Polls say that Bobby Jindal is leaving office as one of the least popular governors in Louisiana history. In fact, Jindal’s approval numbers are so low (20% according to a recent University of New Orleans survey) that he’s one of the least popular governors in the entire country.1 Oh, how the once mighty have fallen.

It goes without saying that Jindal’s legacy is in tatters. The deep tax cuts he championed have left the state in dire financial straits. His plan to privatize Louisiana’s public hospitals could be most accurately described as a boondoggle. His refusal to expand Medicaid coverage cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal reimbursements, while leaving hundreds of thousands of low-income Louisianians uninsured.

You’re probably asking yourself what Jindal has to celebrate on his farewell tour. The answer: not much. Perhaps that’s why he visited St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School in New Orleans on Tuesday to highlight the voucher program he ushered into law in 2008 and later expanded during his second term. Today, nearly 7,100 children across the state receive vouchers through the so-called Louisiana Scholarship Program. More than half of those children – approximately 4000 students – use their vouchers to attend parochial schools in New Orleans.

The lesson from Jindal's voucher program: Just because kids are in private school, doesn't mean they're learning.

The lesson from Jindal’s voucher program: Just because kids are in private school, doesn’t mean they’re learning.

But here’s the problem: The voucher program that Jindal is hanging his hat on has been a huge failure. From the very beginning, the academic performance of voucher students has been dismal, especially when compared with the performance of students in public schools. For example, last year, only 44% of voucher recipients passed Louisiana’s LEAP and iLEAP tests, compared to 69% of students attending public schools. In fact, 23 of the 131 private schools in the scholarship program were barred from accepting new voucher applicants this fall because their previous students performed so poorly on the tests.2 Moreover, vouchers may be losing their luster in the eyes of parents, seeing that voucher enrollment dropped slightly for the first time this year.

In any case, whether Jindal’s voucher program will survive for very long after he leaves office is an open question. Jindal’s replacement, John Bel Edwards, has been a vocal critic of the voucher program over the years. While Edwards has stated he won’t try to ban vouchers, he certainly won’t take steps to expand the program either. Given the poor academic performance of voucher recipients over the past few years, that sounds like a pretty wise plan to me.


  1. Actually, Jindal is the second least popular governor; the honor of least popular governor goes to Charlie Baker of Massachusetts. 
  2. There’s a reason why Jindal visited St. Benedict the Moor – to their credit, 82% of their voucher students passed the LEAP/iLEAP tests last year. 

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Patrick R GibbonsAndré-Tascha Lammé Recent comment authors
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Patrick R Gibbons

.@petercook I have to agree with CATO and others. It is the only such program w/ negative results. Might be too heavy handed w pvt schools.

Patrick R Gibbons

Peter,

You know that I’m a big fan, and appreciate you holding it down for education reform and the work we are trying to do. While we seem to be of like minds in much of your thinking, I think that this piece is a bit short sighted…

Although the governor is out working to establish a legacy of accomplishments, I think tying the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) and its performance to his legacy does a great disservice to the real purpose of the program and its potential impact on poor children and families.

For many families, the Louisiana Scholarship Program has been nothing short of a blessing. The program allows low-income families to access private schools that otherwise would be unavailable to them. I, for one, am proud to live in one of only a few states where poor parents can have a true say in where and how their children are educated. Some 7,000+ families made that choice this year.

We certainly would like to see stronger performance from private schools that participate in the scholarship program, and I’m confident that we will over time. Right now however, I think we should applaud the facts that our program has accountability provisions that not only require scholarship participants to take the state assessments, but that also make the results available publicly. Most importantly, our program has real sanctions in place for schools that do not do well.

What we have not done effectively, I believe, is design and craft policies that make the program stronger (for example by encouraging and providing incentives to high performing private schools to expand and take more students). We also have done a poor job of creating the kind of policy environments that make it easy for high-performing private school networks currently in operation in other states to open their doors to serve children and families in Louisiana. It won’t be until 2016 and 2017 when we start to see private school CMOs like the Christo Rey Network and Hope Christian Schools open schools in our state.

At the end of the day, I think that suggesting that the LSP is part of Governor Jindal’s failed legacy lends support to those who simply want to destroy all forms of educational choice. I’ve long felt that one of the greatest dangers to the overall education reform movement was that a significant number of reformers would be willing to sacrifice private school choice (vouchers) in the belief that this would satisfy those who oppose our work. At a time when all proponents of parental choice and education reform should stand together, I fear that we will in fact, drift apart.

We should not give in to voucher opponents in the naïve belief that if we allow them to dismantle the voucher program that they will be satisfied and will leave other reforms untouched. Make no mistake; education reform opponents want to destroy the entire movement – vouchers, charter schools, accountability provisions, teacher effectiveness policies, etc. They know that if they can cripple the voucher program, the reform movement will be weaker and there will be fewer parents and advocates to fight on the side of reform in the larger battle over the future of education for our children.

We must continue to stand together to fight to both provide a high quality education for poor families, while also continuing to empower them through choice – be it public or private.

André-Tascha Lammé

Louisiana

After Janus, The Drought? LAE & LFT are downplaying the impact of the Janus v. AFSCME decision, but both are subsidized by their national unions

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The United States Supreme Court handed public sector unions – including the teachers unions – a major defeat on Wednesday with their decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which a majority of justices agreed that mandatory agency fee laws violate the First Amendment rights of non-union public employees.

In the 21 states with agency fee laws, public employees covered by collective bargaining agreements were required to pay fees to the union to cover bargaining costs, even if they refused to join. Because agency fees only offered a small discount when compared to union dues, many individuals felt compelled to become members.

Screenshot from Education Next.

Now that the Supreme Court has struck down those laws, many observers expect that public sector unions will lose anywhere from 10-30% of their members, and by extension, a big chunk of their revenues. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García admitted her union expects to lose at least 200,000 members over the next 18 months, depriving them of around $28 million in funding.

What about Louisiana?

Louisiana, of course, is a right-to-work state, meaning that public sector unions here are unlikely to see a drop in their membership, but the Janus decision could have a significant financial impact on the state’s two teachers unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

In an article in The Advocate on Wednesday, officials from LAE and LFT sought to downplay the potential fallout from the ruling, insisting that any impact on their organizations would be minimal. They also wildly exaggerated the size of their respective unions, with both LAE and LFT claiming around 20,000 members.

LAE president Debbie Meaux and LFT president Larry Carter.

Mike Antonucci, a researcher who has been writing about teachers unions for decades, released figures on Wednesday showing that LAE had 10,461 members in 2016-17, of which only 9,416 were full dues-paying members. While precise numbers are not available for LFT, data from tax filings and public records requests show that the union receives far less in dues payments than their counterparts at LAE, while charging their members more on an annual basis. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that LFT is even smaller than LAE’s 10,000 members.

Those tax filings, along with annual reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, also reveal that both LAE and LFT are heavily subsidized by their national unions. According to tax returns, LAE reported $3,291,199 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, although Department of Labor reports show that nearly 30% of that money came from the National Education Association.

Data from IRS 990s and U.S. Department of Labor annual reports.

Likewise, LFT reported $1,809,239 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, but nearly 27% of that total came from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Moreover, as I’ve noted in previous posts, AFT also provides substantial funding to its local affiliates, like the United Teachers of New Orleans, Jefferson Federation of Teachers, and Red River United.

Will the money dry up?

Up to now, LAE and LFT could depend on their national unions to provide a substantial portion of their annual budgets, but the Supreme Court’s decision this week means that steady stream of funding could begin to dry up in the not-too-distant future. While It’s unlikely that AFT and NEA will completely cut-off subsidies to their affiliates in right-to-work states like Louisiana, there’s no escaping the fact that there will be less money to go around.

How that will ultimately impact the activities of Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers is yet to be seen.

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Louisiana

The Red River Ripoff Shreveport's AFT Affiliate Uses Bureaucratic Obstacles To Keep Dues Coming in

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Red River United (RRU), the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union representing educators in Caddo, Bossier, and Red River Parishes, is using bureaucratic hurdles and subterfuge in an attempt to prevent members from leaving the organization.

A reader forwarded me a series of emails regarding three of the union’s current members who submitted a union drop request to Red River officials in October, indicating that they wished to end their affiliation with RRU and stop the monthly deduction of dues from their bank accounts.

The sign outside Red River United’s offices in Shreveport.

The receipt of those forms was acknowledged by the union. Nevertheless, when the three teachers checked with their banks at the end of the month, Red River United had once again deducted dues payments from their accounts. On November 1st, an email was sent to RRU officials notifying them of their mistake and requesting that the union refund those dues to the three individuals.

An emailed response from RRU’s in-house counsel, Elizabeth Gibson, flatly refused to refund those payments, explaining that the three teachers “executed a confidential agreement with Red River United (Membership Form), wherein the individuals authorized Red River United, or its designee, to draft their bank account each month for the amount indicated in the agreement for each billing period.”

She continued:

“Further, they acknowledged that they must give at least 30 days written notice to Red River United to cancel future automated debits. Red River United did not receive written notice at least 30 days in advance personally from the individuals indicating they had chosen to cancel their automated debits/membership. They must physically come to the offices of Red River United to cancel the bank draft due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein. These individuals have not done so. Accordingly, they are not entitled to a refund of the monies they authorized to be withdrawn from their bank accounts.”

Gibson added that the teachers needed to physically go to the union’s offices to provide a so-called “wet signature” in the presence of a Red River United employee in order to officially withdraw from the union and stop the monthly bank withdrawals.

Gibson’s emailed response in which she refused to refund dues to the three teachers.

A ridiculous (and dishonest?) response

Gibson’s response is not only ridiculous, but possibly dishonest. It’s also clearly an attempt by Red River United to make it as difficult as possible for current members to dropout of the union.

To start, the union’s “confidential agreement” – i.e., RRU’s membership form – isn’t all that confidential (in fact, I’ve included a copy of it at the bottom of this post). Nowhere on the membership form does it say anything about the requirement to provide a “wet signature” in the presence of an RRU employee to leave the union and stop monthly payments.

The small print from Red River United’s membership form.

Moreover, Gibson’s contention that the three teachers needed to physically go to RRU’s offices to cancel the bank drafts “due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein” is laughable. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to a newspaper or magazine can tell you that you don’t need to go to their offices to cancel it. Plus, there’s nothing “confidential” about the process. All Red River United needs to do is notify their bank to stop the monthly automatic withdrawals for those three individuals. End of story.

So why is Red River United trying to make these three teachers jump through bureaucratic hoops when they clearly don’t want to be part of their organization anymore? I suspect the union is trying to force them to come to their offices so they can pressure them to remain members, which is the kind of behavior you might expect from a dodgy timeshare broker, not a teachers union.

Nevertheless, teachers unions in other states have increasingly employed similar tactics to stem the departure of their members. For example, after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) changed their opt-out policy to mandate that teachers withdrawal in August and force them to send their resignation requests to an obscure P.O. box address hidden on their website. The union subsequently refused to honor opt-out requests that were sent directly to MEA headquarters or were received outside of the month of August.

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide Janus v. AFSCME this spring.

I expect that we’ll see even more of these sort of schemes in the coming months. In September, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case which argues that requiring public employees to pay agency fees to unions (including teachers unions) is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that the Court will end up striking down the laws in the 22 states that currently mandate agency fees, meaning that teachers unions across the country will soon be scrambling to come up with ways to keep their members from dropping out.

Because Louisiana has long been a right-to-work state, the Janus case should have little direct impact here. At the same time, that’s exactly why Red River United’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for members to leave their organization needs to be called out. Louisiana’s public school teachers have the right to join a union or not. Therefore, they should be able to leave a union just as easily as they signed up. If Red River United wants to salvage some of its integrity, it should immediately accept the resignation of the three educators in question and refund their dues as soon as possible.


Read Red River United’s membership form:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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