Editorial: It’s time to let the courts decide about vouchers

Usually, the best leaders choose silence over provocative speech.

John White, state superintendent of

Louisiana’s schools, would have done better to say nothing at all

rather than accuse the

state’s two teacher unions of getting “in the way of student

achievement.” That was insulting to the teachers that those unions

represent.

The unions chose to fight in court

the Louisiana’s voucher program, which is paying with state dollars to

send students in

mediocre or failing public schools to private or parochial schools

— and hopefully to better results. It is the unions’ perfect

right to take their case to court.

Moreover, the teachers won at the local level when a state district judge ruled recently that it is unconstitutional to send

the state’s public funds to private schools to fund the vouchers. The state will appeal. But the teachers’ victory at the

local level suggests that their position is at least plausible, if it does not prove to be ultimately correct.

The voucher program deserves an

opportunity to succeed. At the very least, students in failing schools

deserve the opportunity

to gain a good education where they can find one. If that means

they go to the private or parochial school of their parents’

choice, good for those lucky families.

After all, of the state’s more than

1,300 public schools, more than 900 are rated as C,D or F. Small wonder

that parents of

almost 5,000 students, given their druthers, have opted for

different paths to educate their children. Everyone should want

what is best for their children.

But the voucher program this school

year was put into motion in great haste. There were initial problems in

approving school

sites, which put the voucher program in a bad light around the

state. The superintendent himself may have misspoken when he

said safeguards were always in place about the schools approved

for the program; that undercut his credibility with some legislators

and the public. That does not mean that vouchers are wrong — they

promise better opportunities for students — but the voucher

program must pass constitutional muster.

All that said, the issue now

belongs before the state’s judiciary, the one branch of government that

Gov. Bobby Jindal does

not control. One judge has ruled. The governor’s response to

losing at the first level of courts — he called the judge’s decision

a “travesty” — was disappointing. This is no time for White to

insult his adversaries in court or for the governor to deride

the judge’s interpretation of the law.

It is time for Jindal and White to back off from political grandstanding and to let Louisiana’s freely elected judges coolly

and dispassionately decide this matter.

• • •

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.