Louisiana's Scholarship Program is a Way Out of Bad Schools

Reince Priebus - November 13, 2013

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
November 12, 2013

President Obama was in Louisiana last week to talk about strengthening the economy. He gives these speeches a lot; this time I presume it was to distract from the negative Obamacare headlines.

But if we're talking about the economy, we should be able to agree that few things are as critical to a prosperous future as giving our kids a quality education. That's why it's so appalling that President Obama wants to deny many low-income children in Louisiana the chance to attend a good school.

Earlier this year, President Obama's Justice Department filed a lawsuit that could keep poor Louisiana children in underperforming schools. Next week, department lawyers will have to defend the case for the first time in court. They want to take low-income students who are attending private schools on scholarships and send them back to failing public schools. In other words, they want to rob parents of the freedom to choose their children's schools, and they want to deny children the chance at a quality education.

At issue is the Louisiana Scholarship Program. This school year, 8,000 children -- 90 percent of them minorities, all of them low-income -- were given scholarships and the chance to attend a better school. Eighty-six percent of the students came from schools that were rated "D" or "F" for their poor performance. If the Obama administration has its way, students could be forced back to these failing schools next year.

That's not fair, and Louisianans seem to agree. A strong majority opposes the Justice Department's suit, according to recent polling.

Every child deserves a quality education, and it's especially important that low-income students have the chance to attend good schools. A quality education is a child's ticket to success, to achieving the American Dream. A child's future shouldn't be determined by a ZIP code.

This isn't the first time President Obama and his fellow Democrats have opposed such scholarship programs. They have repeatedly tried to end a similar program in the District of Columbia, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, by trying to cut funding for it despite its popularity among parents and D.C. residents -- and its proven results. Students who receive the opportunity scholarships have a 91 percent graduation rate. That's more than 20 points higher than those who sought an opportunity scholarship but didn't receive one or didn't accept one.

So why are Democrats so opposed to results-oriented policymaking? There's only one group aside from the Obama administration that regularly voices its opposition to giving poor and minority kids a fair shot: teachers unions. Since the 2008 election cycle, teachers unions have given more than $16.8 million to Democrats. That's 96 percent of their total political contributions. Is that a coincidence?

It's no wonder why teachers unions oppose school choice: Their job is to look out for the adults in the system, not for the kids. But our education policies should be designed to help students succeed, not to help union bosses take home fatter paychecks. Sadly, the Obama administration has agreed to do unions' bidding and ignore the needs of students.

It's unconscionable. The American education system is broken and in urgent need of reform. There's an achievement gap between rich and poor, and between white and minority students. American children are falling behind their international peers: our 15 year olds rank 14th in reading and 25th in math on international assessments.

Like other Republican governors, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal decided his state would do everything it could to get the state's neediest students a better education. In 2008, Jindal and the Legislature started the scholarship program for low-income students in New Orleans. The program was then expanded statewide. But instead of learning from the successes of state-level innovation, the Obama administration now wants to stand in the way of progress in at least 22 of Louisiana's school districts.

There are a number of reasons that American students aren't getting the education they deserve. Sadly, the Obama administration is now one of them.

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