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Providing Choice is the Best Choice

March 28, 2016

By: Stephen Waguespack

Life is about the choices we make.

Whether big or small, made in the blink of an eye, or after much consideration; the choices we make throughout our lives tell the story of our very existence.

Some of these choices are consequential while others are seemingly nefarious to the larger picture. It is only with time that we learn the categories in which those choices ultimately fall.

One can reflect on the major choices they have made and appreciate the impact these decisions had in setting them on a specific course of life. Where to go to school? What field of study to pursue? What career to embark upon and how many times to stray from that path, if ever? Where to live? What guy or girl to marry? Kids? How many? When to retire and how best to plan for that time?

We make countless other seemingly inconsequential choices each and every day though all of our choices have the potential to be life changing. Daily small dietary and exercise choices can lead to major and specific long-term health outcomes. The time and route chosen to travel on any given day can put us in the wrong place at the wrong time without warning. Stopping on a whim to buy the right lottery ticket at the right gas station at the right time of day can bring about generational wealth in an instant.

The choices we make in many ways determine the life we end up living more than any other outside factor. The more choices available to us, the more control we have over our destiny rather than leaving our future to the fate of others.

Which is why it is perplexing that some in Baton Rouge are trying to restrict educational choices for those throughout Louisiana that absolutely need it the most.

If you grow up poor, especially in Louisiana, some of the choices mentioned above are not as varied. For instance, economic hurdles can limit living and transportation options. Thankfully, schooling limitations don’t have to be as restricted in Louisiana thanks to specific laws and programs we have implemented.

Louisiana has one of the nation’s strongest and most taxpayer-friendly school choice systems thanks largely to a robust voucher and tuition rebate program, expanded Head Start and Pre-K options, and a nationally-acclaimed network of varied charter schools that are beginning to show great results for those kids that need it the most.

Louisiana leads the nation since 2013 in the improvement of fourth-grade math and reading scores, and has improved seven spots in the national rankings since 2009. Our graduation rates are at an all-time high and the number of our graduates entering college has increased 16 percent in the last five years. More of our kids are taking Advanced Placement courses and passing the ACT than ever before and our state’s average scores on those categories is rising. Even better, a large chunk of these gains is coming from student populations that were previously stuck in low performing schools without any other available option.

Improved outcomes are great to see, but we all know we have much more work to do to make up for decades of low outcomes. Many of the reforms we have in place have put us on the right path, but our final destination has not yet been reached. As Robert Frost once said, “we have miles to go before we sleep” if we truly want to build a high-performing and comprehensive education system that is sustainable, responsible to taxpayers, and driven by students and parents.

This session, some in the Legislature want us to divert from this path, make a drastic “U-turn” and return to the same system that failed to deliver for our students, families and communities for generations. Legislators have filed legislation to stop new charter schools in areas throughout our state; limit the effectiveness of taxpayer-friendly vouchers for low-income families; and delay school and teacher accountability, among other items. In addition, the executive budget as introduced attempts to slash school choice programs.

The origins of educational reform efforts can be traced to Gov. Mike Foster. They continued under Govs. Blanco and Jindal and they must absolutely continue now. This is not a partisan issue, nor is it one that pits rich vs. poor, north vs. south or liberal vs. conservative. A path to an improved educational system is a path chosen by the residents of this state years ago, but to remain on it, that choice must be made yet again this year.

Making the right choice as much as possible is critical for a successful and fulfilling life. Having those choices even available in the first place is the first step for many. If the Legislature is successful in curtailing Louisiana’s improving and nationally-acclaimed school choice programs this session, the choice of returning to a failed system will be made for many of our residents before they ever get the chance to weigh in on their own future. They deserve better and, quite frankly, we are a much better society than that.