Blacks’ Support for School Choice Increases in New Orleans, Nationwide

Published September 1, 2008

In an eye-opening October 2007 Boston Globe article assessing developments in the New Orleans schools, James Peyser, former chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, wrote, “Since Katrina, nearly every aspect of the status quo has changed.”

That was evidenced, Peyser pointed out, by emerging changes from a centralized decision-making process to one that “puts authority where the students are, letting principals make more of their own decisions about resources, personnel, and curriculum.”

Peyser also offered black politicians’ changing attitudes toward school choice as evidence of a change in the status quo.

State Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), sponsor of a successful bill establishing a voucher program for low-income families to send their children to the school of their choice, and state Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans), who sponsored the bill in her chamber, are black Democrats representing New Orleans.

They represent a growing number of black legislators open to alternatives to public education, a system that historically has been strongly supported by black politicians. A pattern of low test scores and graduation rates and high dropout and remediation numbers is beginning to supplant loyalty to the system and deference to teacher unions, which often oppose choice, nationwide.

“Our children are going to be competing against the entire world for success,” Duplessis said. “But no longer can this be about protecting the system. For me, I’m concerned about protecting the kids, and if we have to take every penny and redirect it to private institutions–if that’s what it takes–then we’ll do it.”

Black legislators also provided strong leadership in passing voucher bills in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC.

“We are beginning to find out for ourselves that ‘voucher’ is not a dirty word,” Duplessis said. “We’re also beginning to find out that the [government-monopolized] system doesn’t work, a fact that’s evident across the country. Instead of continuing to spend more money just repairing this old car, it’s time to just buy a new one.”