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.
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.