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

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. 

Written by Peter Cook

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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  1. 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.

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