Monday’s disconcerting news that the state’s budget formula falls $42 million short of the anticipated needs of public schools reflects the necessity for creative and innovative solutions to the public education dilemma. In the midst of an ongoing state fiscal crisis, this $42 million gap in the budget means further emergency cuts, possibly to health care and higher education. Invariably, many will call for stop-gap measures such as tax hikes.
The ongoing charade with the state budget is proof that we should turn away from this vicious cycle and embrace reformative measures outside of taxes and overhead cuts. In the case of public education, this means advocating school choice and promoting vouchers, rather than blanket standards and more federal cash bailouts.
Many arguments critical of vouchers and school choice have conspiratorial undertones, while others claim the state needs to focus on fixing public schools rather than allowing students to leave for private and charter schools. The latter has valid concerns, but the unfortunate truth is that the public school system is so overburdened with administrative costs and so far behind in actual performance that for now the only option is to alleviate the strain on infrastructure.
Teachers unions claim that the state doesn’t invest enough money in public schooling. However, no amount of state money can remedy this situation. Voucher programs not only provide students with access to better schools of their choosing, but cost as low as a quarter per student compared to public schools. Because the state funding formula awards money to schools per student, implementing vouchers can greatly reduce the amount of money the state needs to allocate every year and thus prevent shortfalls. This in turn leaves the state more money to prevent the slash-and-burn cuts taking place at UNO.
The success of vouchers and improved school-choice has been demonstrated throughout the country, most prominently in Washington, D.C. The tangible results stand out for themselves– decreased costs, vastly improved performance, and popular support.
Of course, an effective transition from the status quo to a diversified education system will be gradual, so this latest crisis will entail austerity cuts to key sectors, the likes of which Louisianans should be used to by now. Following the Republican gains made in the midterm elections, the Heritage Foundation documented the myriad triumphs of school-choice proponents over ardent union loyalists. Regrettably, Louisiana is not one of the states mentioned in the report. Until our state fully commits to prescient solutions rather than reverting to tired, hackneyed measures we may face a steady stream of budget fiascos.