I assume that former President George W. Bush didn’t get a warning letter from the governor before his visit to New Orleans for the Katrina anniversary last week.
President Barack Obama definitely did, though.
Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote the president before his visit, asking him to “respect this important time of remembrance by not inserting the divisive political agenda of liberal environmental activism,” by which the governor meant any talk of climate change.
Jindal had no problem in his letter discussing another hot political topic, revamping the education system. And he did so in glowing terms, as if the success of charter schools were settled social science with no legitimate opposing views on the matter.
“Charter schools and our scholarship program have given parents previously unthinkable choice and children unprecedented opportunity,” he wrote. In case you don’t keep up with this issue, “scholarship program” refers to taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition, a phrase school reformers apparently think is too politically incorrect to be used widely.
Jindal also touted the role of the “New Orleans Recovery School District,” a name that blurs the fact that RSD is actually a state entity, not a local controlling authority.
Bush arrived on Friday, the day after Obama’s visit, and spoke at Warren Easton Charter High School on Canal Street. Given the surroundings, the radical revamp of the city’s school system was a natural topic.
“The storm nearly destroys New Orleans, and yet now New Orleans is the beacon for school reform,” Bush said.
“Administrators at these schools have the freedom to slice through red tape and the freedom to innovate,” he said as he hit on all the favorite memes of the charter movement. “Parents at these schools have choices if dissatisfied.”
While schools in New Orleans are better than before Katrina, the topic is neither uncontroversial nor apolitical.
There are valid questions about whether due process was followed when New Orleans teachers lost their jobs en masse. Many wonder if school “choice” is illusory if it means that students who can’t get their first choice in the open-enrollment process are then shuffled off to less-than-stellar schools.
We can have a debate over whether the educational system in New Orleans is the success its supporters say it is. And that’s the point: If the issue is still debatable, then it’s political.
If you had any doubt that New Orleans education is a political topic, you need look no further than Jindal’s second important piece of writing last week, his commentary on the CNN website the day after Bush’s visit.
The article drips with contempt for those who question the direction of education in Louisiana. He says “the left” is fighting the changes here, “in the name of union special interests.”
He criticizes “the Obama administration’s Justice Department” for intervening to make sure the voucher program complies with ongoing discrimination cases.
“The New Orleans experience should serve as a reminder to conservatives that our ideas, based on free markets and competition, work,” the governor wrote. Nothing apolitical there.
Bush and Jindal both talk about “choice” as if students can easily slip from one charter school to another until they find one that meets their needs. Parents will tell you that dream doesn’t reflect reality and that choice still depends in large part on socioeconomic factors.
A family with working parents may find that the city’s best school is a school too far if there’s no citywide system of yellow buses crisscrossing the town.
Claiming that climate change is political but educational change is not simply ignores, or purposely conceals, the reality.
Dennis Persica can be reached at email@example.com.