What a great time for the Wall Street Journal to bring up this topic. After all, the Republican candidates in the nomination battle have focused their arguments on actual competition-based reform and results, right? Oh, wait … we’ve been too busy discussing 1997, 2003, and the finer points of class-warfare attacks on private enterprise and consulting. That may be the reason for the WSJ’s attention:
Louisiana is already one of 12 states (including Washington, D.C.) that offer school vouchers, but its program benefits fewer than 2,000 students in New Orleans. Governor Jindal would extend eligibility to any low-income student whose school gets a C, D or F grade from state administrators. That’s almost 400,000 students—a bit more than half the statewide population—who could escape failing schools for private or virtual schools, career-based programs or institutions of higher education.
Funding for these vouchers (“scholarships” is the poll-tested term) would come not from a new fund, as in New Orleans, but from what the state already spends on public education per capita. So every student leaving a failing school would take about $8,500 (on average) with him, hitting the bureaucracy where it hurts. This is called competition, that crucial quality missing where monopolies reign.
Post-Katrina New Orleans is already the nation’s leading charter-school zone, with 80% of city students enrolled, academic performance improving dramatically, and plans to go all-charter by 2013. To spread the model statewide, the Governor would create new regional boards for authorizing charters and offer fast-track authorization to high-performing operators such as KIPP. He’d also give charters the same access to public facilities as traditional public schools.
As for tenure, Mr. Jindal would grant it only to teachers who are rated “highly effective” five years in a row, meaning the top 10% of performers. And tenure wouldn’t equal lifetime protection: A tenured teacher who rates in the bottom 10% (“ineffective”) in any year would return to probationary status. Ineffective teachers would receive no pay raise. Louisiana would also ban the “last in, first out” practice under which younger teachers are dismissed first, regardless of performance.
Wouldn’t this be a great topic for Republicans to discuss during the campaign? Conservatives have tried pushing competition as a way to reform the public-school system for two decades. No Child Left Behind originally included that as a key component, but George Bush retreated on it in the face of entrenched opposition in Congress. A candidate who might be looking to burnish conservative credentials might think carefully about working in ways to support Jindal’s reforms as part of their own platform.
Of course, that might not be the only hint the WSJ has chosen to drop:
Louisiana used to be one of America’s most ill-governed states, but Mr. Jindal pushed major economic and ethics reforms in his first term and is now starting his second with his education moon shot. It would be one giant leap for Louisiana students.
Regardless of who wins the nomination, that makes a pretty good resume for a running mate, does it not? An outside-the-Beltway reformer with a successful track record of reform, who is also a Southern governor, a staunch pro-lifer, and a young star in the party already on his second term? I’d call this a not-so-subtle hint on several levels from the WSJ.