The gift of a great education is the single most selfless act of love we can give our children. Every child deserves access to high-quality schools and world-class teachers. After all, studies show when young people are actively engaged in the learning process, they are more likely to stay on a path to educational success that will yield tangible fruits throughout their lifetime.
So why do some want to destroy those fruits before they get a chance to grow? This is what would happen if Gov. John Bel Edwards moves forward with an ill-advised proposal to gut the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The draconian cuts would not only deny low-income and working-class black parents and their children the opportunity to receive a great education to deal with short-term budgetary constraints, it would turn back the clock on the significant progress we’ve made to address the sad chapter of racial discrimination and funding inequalities in our state’s education system.
The governor said he would put Louisiana parents and children first. If these cuts go as planned, our children will get the short end of the stick with their futures lying in the balance. We’ve already been there, done that. We cannot sit futilely by and watch this happen to our children all over again.
As we already know, Louisiana continues to lag behind the nation in providing children, especially black children, with high-quality schools and teachers. One out of every two schools in the state were rated C or worse in 2014-15, which means many children are trapped in schools unfit for them academically.
The state has spent the past decade making progress to address many of these challenges. This includes using testing to assess the educational needs of our children; increasing the number of charter schools in New Orleans and Baton Rouge; and the expansion of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which now serves 7,100 students. Cuts to this program would not only freeze enrollment of new students, it would force more than a thousand current students to return to underperforming schools. All of the significant academic strides made over the past decade would be up in the air and face being wiped out with the stroke of the governor’s pen.
But the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options Clergy Coalition stands ready to work with Edwards to ensure the scholarship program remains viable and fully funded. That was certainly our attitude when we met with the governor over dinner a few months ago to discuss the unintended effects these funding cuts will have on the scholarship program. Yet when we tried to introduced ourselves as the members of the clergy he had dinner with last winter, he remarked that “the fried chicken was great.” You mean to tell me that’s all the governor remembers from our meeting? The fried chicken?
Well, let us once again posit with Edwards that cuts to the scholarship program will not improve our children’s chances of graduating from high school and obtaining college degrees. Especially given that just 3 in 10 Louisiana adults have bachelor’s and graduate degrees in an era where knowledge equals access to economic success.
There are other solutions the governor can pursue to resolve the budget crunch, all of which are being discussed now. We must continue to look at new alternatives because balancing the state’s budget on the backs of our children in the scholarship program will destroy the gains we’ve worked incredibly hard to achieve. Gutting the scholarship program will provide negligible budgetary relief as the students who lose their scholarships will return to public schools with the same tax dollars in tow. We urge the governor to leave funding for the Louisiana Scholarship Program in tact. It’s the one educational program we know is working as it offers our children a unique opportunity for a better life.
Tom Watson is chairman of the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options Clergy Coalition. He lives in New Orleans.