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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. 

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 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

Patrick R Gibbons reposted this Article on


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

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A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?



On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.

Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.

Some background on H.B. 568

The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.

Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).

Read more about how researchers use student data:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.

So what’s with the veto?

Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:

“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”

The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.

Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.

Read House Bill 568:

Read the Governor’s Veto Message:

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All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers



For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.


Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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