Jindal’s reforms are smart, comprehensive, and innovative, representing the best of conservative thought on education. Rick Hess, director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, has high praise for the reforms, calling them “both politically savvy and good public policy,” and important both “as an individual event, and part of a trend.” That is, Jindal’s reforms represent a victory for conservative education-reform policies, and represent the growing tide of support for such ideas. The measures are broken down into two bills, and have two major components: significantly increasing school choice, and increasing accountability.
As Hess puts it, Louisiana’s new policies “establish a new standard for school choice, breaking ground for other states across the country.” Jindal has pushed for a huge expansion of voucher programs, which pay tuition for students at parochial or private schools. The state program itself is based on a successful system in Orleans Parish. Four hundred thousand students, almost half of Louisiana’s public-school population, would be eligible for a voucher to pay tuition at a private school (that’s the number of students who are eligible because they attend schools that receive C, D, or F grades from the state).
Jindal’s efforts will also increase support for charter schools. One of the greater controversies of education reform is whether or not school choice, by sending students to private schools or charter schools that lack standards, actually increases achievement. Choice in education is, of course, an intrinsically good thing, but it is a legitimate criticism, and advocates for charter schools have often found themselves overselling their promise in order to justify the concept. At the request of Democratic legislators, Louisiana’s reforms will now allow for deeper assessments of the charter and private schools supported by the state — a solid step forward, but one that only became possible once the battle for school choice had been won.
The other major element of Jindal’s reforms applies to public schools, establishing greater incentives and accountability for teachers. The plan would completely scrap the current teacher-salary matrix, replacing it with a more merit- and accountability-based system, though, as a concession, salary decreases will be blocked.