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Louisiana’s successful school reform program

AFTER Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Louisiana and the Orleans Parish School Board faced the task of rebuilding an already failing public education system.

With dozens of schools destroyed and 65,000 students displaced, state education authorities initiated the nation's largest experiment in school choice.

The program gives low-income parents a choice of participating private schools to send their kids if their child's original public school is making a low grade.

While the program has its faults, it's successful enough that the state recently expanded it.

Of the students who transferred from a public school, 86 percent came from a D or F rated school. Ninety-three percent qualify for free or reduced lunches, and 91.5 percent are minority. A survey of parents found that 93 percent were satisfied with their children's scholarship school.

The Department of education estimates the program saved state taxpayers $15.2 million last fiscal year.

And best of all, English/language arts and math scores for schools participating in multiple years increased 20 and 28 percent respectively.

One would think that a program that improves opportunities for minorities, saves money, is preferred by parents and improves student achievement would be congratulated. Not so by the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder.

The Justice Department sued to block the plan, claiming it violates federal desegregation laws, although evidence shows it is either not impacting or actually improving integration in most school districts.

After a federal judge indicated he wouldn't stop the program, the Justice Department relented, to an extent, and now only wants to pre-approve every voucher granted in this state run and state-funded program.

Sheesh. This is not a 1960s situation where white authorities block the entrance of black children into better schools. This is an innovative program that gives minority children better opportunity.

As James Golsan of the Texas Public Policy Foundation blogged in the Huffington Post, "Students in Louisiana - and in the rest of America - deserve a chance to pursue the kind of education that best suits their needs as learners. They don't deserve the federal government blocking programs that will allow them to do exactly that."


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