OPINION: AFC Board Member Calls for Expansion of School Choice in Louisiana
From AFC Board member Kevin P. Chavous writing in the Louisiana Advocate:
The New Orleans public school system underwent a complete transformation following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The mass exodus of teachers and students from the city in the storm’s immediate aftermath, coupled with a school system with severely scaled down resources, forced the city to become a hotbed for revamped educational approaches, as evidenced by New Orleans being named America’s best city for school reform by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute last year. Many of the thousands of children in some of the city’s high-achieving charter schools are thriving, and there are far fewer underperforming schools today than there were in 2004.
We must confront a stark reality in the context of our conversations about education reform in New Orleans: That there are still thousands of kids who wake up every day without access to a quality education. That’s why along with our support for our growing charter school population and high-performing traditional public schools, we must protect, extend, and expand the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.
The SSEE Program is giving nearly 1,700 students from low- and middle-income families in Orleans Parish access to scholarships to attend private schools of their parents’ choosing. Last year, there were almost 400 more eligible applicants for the program than there were open spaces. Demand was even higher this year, which is why it’s time to make the SSEE Program permanent and shore up its future and with it, help shore up the futures of the kids in New Orleans who need our help most.
The program empowers parents to play a more active role in the educational futures of their children at a fraction of the cost of the per-pupil spending on traditional public education, and a recent poll showed that a significant majority of East Baton Rouge voters support bringing a similar program to its parish.
Families from across the state have heard the success stories from program participants in New Orleans, and a recent community forum in East Baton Rouge Parish showcased the stories of dozens and dozens of parents who are crying out for educational alternatives in their own community. Their message was passionate yet strikingly clear: Many of their current schools are failing them, and that’s unacceptable.
Access to quality educational opportunities is the pre-eminent civil-rights issue of our time, and we’ve seen before what can happen to a forgotten class of people because they lack resources, political power or other opportunities. By giving Louisiana families school choice, we can begin to make sure that it never happens again.