Hundreds demand legislature finds funding for scholarship program

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 7:00am

Governor Bobby Jindal joined hundreds of parents and students at the Louisiana State Capitol to show support for the school voucher program.

They took part in a rally Wednesday sponsored by the Black Alliance for Educational Options. The theme of "You Promised..." was aimed at state legislators, to get them to find a new funding source for the scholarships.

"This is about pursuing the American Dream," Gov. Jindal remarked. "This is making sure that every little boy, every little girl out here, has a chance to go to a great school."

Gov. Jindal's message Wednesday was that all children, regardless of their background, deserve a chance at a quality education.

Jacobby Stalks, a fifth grader at St. Alphonsus in Central, is grateful to the scholarship that allows him to go to school there.

"It's a good school," he said. "It teaches you a lot of good and interesting things. You are going to get a great education there. And I think I'm going to stick around for a couple of years."

Stalks was one of 5,000 students statewide who used vouchers to go to private schools this year. The state has already guaranteed spots to 8,000 for next school year, with a waiting list of another 4,000 children.

But the Louisiana Supreme Court said last week that the state's method for paying for all those scholarships was unconstitutional. Now it has to come up with a new source of money. Critics say that, since the state's revenues have not increased, any funding will come at the expense of public education or some other valuable program.

"If the governor can find money to keep our kids into this private school, why can't he find funds to keep our public hospital open," asked Hyma Moore Sr., referring to Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital.

Moore's children went through the East Baton Rouge Public School System, and he attended the rally to voice his displeasure with scholarships.

"My kids did outstanding," he stated. "Because of our public school teachers. Don't tell me what public schools don't do. They do outstanding!"

BAEO says more than 90 percent of the families who use vouchers are happy with the program and their new schools. Since its funding is in doubt, those families are worried that the state might abandon them.

"But then you made a promise to them," Samantha Burbank said about the legislature. "It's just like, on Christmas, you give them a toy, and you take it back."

Burbank has grandchildren who use scholarships, but said her support of the program extends beyond her family.

"Even if it wasn't my grandchildren, I was coming," she said, "because guess what? It's very important for them to have the education.

"And wherever they got the march, I'm 'a march with them."

Steve Monahan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, is one of the state's leading critics of school vouchers.

"I don't want to be glib," he said, "but it would be really nice if the governor had a rally on behalf of the 700,000 children that are in public schools. They need that champion out there fighting for them, too."

Monahan said there should have been data to support expanding the voucher program after its three years in New Orleans. And since private schools are not given letter grades by the state like public schools, and their students are not required to pass LEAP tests to begin the next grade.

"We test our children in public schools, we hold them accountable to pass high-stakes tests. They're not doing that in the voucher schools. That fails under the fairness test," he said.

Gov. Jindal said Wednesday he will not let the scholarship program disappear, because it is too important to too many people.

"I've seen moms with tears in their eyes," he recalled, "telling me how grateful they were that, finally, their children had a chance to have a better quality of life than their parents have. That's what this is about."

"It's not about warm and fuzzies," Monahan countered. "It's now about, 'is this working, and at whose expense do you want to continue it?' And I think that's what the governor owes the folks."  


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