Politicians are quick to talk about equal opportunity -- especially when it comes to our children.
Why, then, are many Louisiana politicians attacking Louisiana's school choice program which offers an equal opportunity to some of our most vulnerable children who -- until now -- have been left far behind when it comes to their education?
Louisiana's school choice pilot program throws a lifeline to disenfranchised and forgotten children trapped in the state's lowest performing schools by offering them scholarships to private schools that otherwise would be out of their financial reach. It levels the playing field for families with no other option to give their children a chance for a better education and a more promising future as successful, productive members of Louisiana's workforce.
This is not about giving some families a free ride at taxpayer expense.
It is about making sure every Louisiana resident can compete in an increasingly demanding work place. It is about making Louisiana more attractive to new businesses and helping us keep existing ones. It is about giving every kid a chance to graduate with a degree that earns him or her a seat in college or a good job that will support a healthy family and contribute to a healthy economy for our state.
Local business leaders are constantly reminding me that the requirements for a qualified workforce are escalating daily. If we don't improve the education we offer every child, our next generation and our state will be left in the dust of states eager to make those new leaps in education.
This program also is not about undercutting our public school system and our public school teachers. We are working hard to improve our public schools at every level with effective teachers and high standards for learning.
And we're seeing results. Three out of every four Louisiana schools improved their performance scores in the past year. The percentage of schools rated "D" or "F" on the statewide grading scale dropped from 44 percent last year to 36 percent this year.
But we still have a long way to go. Until we bring up every failing school to the standard Louisianans deserve and expect, we must look out for those students and families that the system is failing.
This program is an effort to give families a choice while we're making those improvements. We don't want a single child to suffer because education improvements aren't moving fast enough to provide every Louisiana child a quality education.
We don't want any child to be condemned to attend a poor-performing school because his or her family doesn't have the bank account to send them to private school or the means to move to a neighborhood with a better public school.
We are moving forward in education in this state, and contrary to what the status quo wants us to believe, the majority of Louisiana people are excited to see real reform at last. Parents have hope that their children will graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. Louisiana businesses have confidence that we will provide them the capable workforce they need.
This program is supported by the families who feel their kids are trapped in a failing school. Should the government stand in their way?
Unfortunately, we are fighting many of the same old political turf battles by those who want to derail any new attempt to bring progress to our state. Some who are more focused on adults and traditional systems would deny a fair playing field to 4,900 families who want nothing more than a decent education for their children.
I don't believe taxpayers pay taxes to subsidize a failing government school system. What they want is quality education provided to every child. No judge or elected official should be party to any effort that would allow a single child to drown in mediocrity just because his or her family is poor.
This is about helping kids. If we turn our backs on school choice, it won't be only some of our most deserving children who will be the losers. It will be our entire state.
Louisiana should make its voice clear: We believe every child should have the choice of a quality education and we put that above the protection of a system that does not provide one.
Chas Roemer is president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
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