Editorial: Public has right to know details of state voucher program

The state Education Department continues to trip over its own tongue in explaining why it is stonewalling the public about details of its voucher program.

Last spring, The Associated Press,

through a public records request, sought information on how schools were

chosen for the

voucher program, which involves state payments to private schools

for almost 5,000 students this year. The department dragged

its feet for almost two months before rejecting the AP’s request.

Later, the department said it would honor the request in September. In October, after sleeping on it, the department reversed itself

yet again and said the request was overly broad.

The public might suspect something else: that the Education Department itself broadened the voucher program without fully

thinking out the consequences of its actions.

Stories published by the American Press

detailed numerous problems with voucher program applications from

private schools in DeRidder and in Westlake that were woefully

unprepared to accommodate voucher students

Similar news stories published elsewhere in Louisiana revealed situations in which other private schools were ill-prepared

to educate the swarms of students they were expecting to enroll through voucher payments.

The state’s voucher program has been criticized, left and right, in national reports. The left-leaning multi-faith organization

Interfaith Alliance criticized the program as “bad for religious freedom and bad for public education.”

The Rev. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister who heads the alliance, wrote Jindal that under the state voucher program, tax dollars

would be paid to religious schools that would teach creationism in lieu of science.

While he defended the religious schools’ freedom to teach creationism, he said the state should not send tax dollars to them

to help them do it.

Conversely, The Objective Standard,

which touts Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rugged individualism, published a

piece that argued

that the Louisiana voucher plan would make private schools less

private by making them meet state standards. “When the government

cuts the check,” Michael A. LaFerrara wrote, “the government sets

the terms.”

Any program that controversial needs more explanation, not less. But at the Education Department, mum’s the word.

Louisianians should give voucher

schools careful consideration for the good they can do. Impoverished

students should not

be condemned to inferior schools, as the administration rightly

contends; vouchers can enable parents to improve their children’s

chances for a good education.

But because taxpayers are footing the bill for this program — the state is paying up to almost $9,000 per student — the public

has a right to know the details of how this program has evolved and is evolving.

The people themselves can judge how the Education Department has handled vouchers, but it needs all the facts the department

is hiding to make that judgment.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.