Opinion

Louisiana school choice program already helping students

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Robert Enlow
President and CEO, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
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      Robert Enlow

      In January of 2009 Robert Enlow took over the role of President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an organization dedicated to promoting universal school choice. Previously he had been the Executive Director of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice since late 2004. He joined the Friedman Foundation when it first opened in 1996, serving as fundraiser, projects coordinator and vice president before being named executive director.

      Under his leadership, the Friedman Foundation has become one of the nation’s leading advocates for school choice, working in dozens of states to advance the issue by disseminating research, sponsoring seminars, undertaking advertising campaigns, organizing community leaders and providing grants.

      He is the Co-editor of the book Liberty and Learning, Milton Friedman’s Voucher Idea at Fifty, author of Grading Vouchers, Ranking America’s School Choice Programs, and co-author of School Choice: A Reform that Works and “Early School Choice,” a chapter in An Education Agenda: Let Parents Choose Their Children’s School. His articles and quotes have appeared in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Arizona Republic and National Review.

      Prior to joining the Friedman Foundation, he lived and worked in England where he worked as a Deputy Day Center Manager and Social Worker for St. Botolph's Project, an organization providing rehabilitative care and services to homeless men, women and families. While in England, he also served on the School Board of two inner city schools in London, Hillmead Infants and Juniors School, where he chaired the Finance Committee and served on the Building and Curriculum Committees. During his tenure, the success of the schools was nationally recognized in an inspection by Her Majesty's Office of Standards in Education Department (OFSTED).

      From 1990-92, Robert attended Oxford University where he worked on a post-graduate degree in Theology. He received his BA degree from Seattle Pacific University.

      His civic positions include Private Sector Chairman of the Education Task Force for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that recently awarded him Private Sector Member of the Year. He is also a Board member for School Choice Ohio and Advisory Board Member of Children First: School Choice Trust. He currently lives in Indianapolis and has two children, Jefferson and Charles.

The new school year is barely a month old, but Falesha Augustus can already sense life is going to be very different for her 10-year-old son Willie.

The fourth grader was one of 4,944 Louisiana children fortunate enough to win a scholarship to a private school under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s expanded school voucher program.

Because Willie attended a failing school last year, he was able to qualify for a scholarship to enroll in the school of his mom’s choice. She picked Hosanna Christian Academy in East Baton Rouge because of its focus on discipline, its structure and its small class sizes.

“In just a few short weeks, he has learned so much,” Falesha says. “All I hear about is how he is eager to learn, and he is discovering this and that. Willie is way happier than he has ever been — and he is not coming home complaining about being bullied like he did.”

These are the benefits of offering parents the option of something other than a government-mandated public school for their children. School voucher programs allow parents to place their children in private schools — including faith-based ones — where students get more individual attention and better outcomes than they do at local public schools.

Thousands of Louisiana parents are already hearing about the possibilities that will be available for their children thanks to the state’s new scholarship program. For the 2012-13 school year, demand for scholarships outstripped supply.

Louisiana parents certainly need better options. Last year, 71.6 percent of Louisiana public schools were given C’s, D’s or F’s by the Louisiana Department of Education. In 2011, the state had a dropout rate of 14.6 percent. And in 2010, 34 percent of the state’s college freshmen needed remediation.

What’s more, data show the program will save Louisiana taxpayers money because it’s cheaper to educate children at private schools than it is to send them to public schools. This academic year, the average tuition voucher is worth $5,300, compared to the projected per-pupil expenditure of $8,837 in public schools. State officials estimate the scholarship program will save taxpayers about $18 million this school year.

The Louisiana public employee unions are challenging the voucher program in court next month. This is yet another indication that the unions are more interested in preserving their power than ensuring children are safe, happy and ready to learn. Their monopoly on students has not helped children like Willie Augustus nor the tens of thousands of other Louisiana pupils who want options other than their neighborhood public school.

Willie’s mom says he’s the largest student in his fourth grade class because he was held back a grade while in public school. “Those schools failed my child,” she said. “He did not learn the fundamentals, and the classes were often out of control.”

Willie’s experience was not unique. Thanks to Gov. Jindal’s voucher plan, thousands of Louisiana parents will be able to send their children to private schools if they believe their child’s public school isn’t doing the job. That’s good news for Louisiana children.

Robert Enlow is the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate and school choice founder Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose.