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.