by Elliott Stonecipher

It is remarkable how quiet a community’s passage from one era to another can be.  Perhaps the least we can do in such instances is mark the moment in time.

The Caddo Parish public school system in which many of us were educated, and in which many of us educated our children and grandchildren, is a chapter in our history which is now complete.  As a community, we now move to the chapter about what we have learned, and what we intend to do for our children as a result.

If we do as we have in our more recent history, we will let outsiders write for us.  If so, we will end up misinformed and, most of us, dissatisfied.  Only by and through the engagement implicit in true self-government will our public school system belong to us.  When the Caddo Parish School Board at 1961 Midway Avenue in Shreveport already functions as a world apart, why would we punt the education of our children to Baton Rouge or Washington, DC? 

Last week marked fundamental change in our public education reform effort, both in the literal sense here in our local school board meeting, and in the sense of a potent promise – threat? – from our governor.

Locally, a group of community activists, including some members of our legacy school board, took definitive steps in withholding yet another windfall of public funding for our current school system.  These reformers with real skin in the game knew that throwing another $134,000,000 bond issue and $20,000,000 or so a year from a sales tax increase would be a huge mistake.  When the family jalopy with a million miles on it is falling apart in the middle of the street, all drivers and riders alike know that expensive repairs are a total waste.  As we were taught growing up, that’s “just good money after bad.” 


 Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, our governor deigned to give us another peek under the edge of his education “reform” circus tent.  While hard and long experience has taught me to view all such titillation as prelude to something distinctly distasteful and unfair, the point remains:  state funding for our traditional public school systems via the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) is headed much, much lower.

Not unusually, the governor told us the “why” and “how” – our present education system has systemically failed, and politicians are going to offer vouchers to parents of 380,000 public school kids – but skipped the “how we will pay for it.”  Political sleight-of-hand notwithstanding, plenty of us understand the rest of it.  (A related Shreveport Times editorial is here.)

For those less entertained by partisan political agendas and strongly committed to the foundational promise of highest-quality public education for every child, independent community school districts are our ticket out of the education morass.  The essence of the promise of this alternative is found at their philosophical core:  those who pay for the education offered in “their” community schools are also those who staff and run those schools.  It is just that simple:  the opposite of taxation without representation.

To the extent the withdrawal of any of Caddo’s schools into community groupings (three, it now seems) endangers financially weaker districts, funding equalization is a non-negotiable must.  In the case of the work done thus far in Caddo, any claims that independent districts necessarily yield underfunded districts are bogus, and are specifically intended to misrepresent and politicize – i.e., kill – this effort in order to keep our money flowing as it now does.  Such is class warfare, and it will trace back in each case to those who, in fact, personally benefit from the status quo.

Those of us who have been fighting this fight for quite some time agree on two things, if nothing else:

(1)  what Caddo has long time provided in the name of “public education” is broken, cannot be fixed, and should not continue to be a bottomless pit of irresponsible – to put it mildly – spending, and
(2)  the issue before us now is “How?” – not “If.”

Purely personally, I well and fully recognize that our current public school system failed long ago.  Many years back, a stunningly unaccountable, cut-off-from-reality school system leadership decided that no amount of our hard-earned tax dollars (a near-half-billion dollars a year in spending) was ever going to be enough for them.  Metrics of enrollment and educational quality inarguably and steadily declined, but the money we spent illogically skyrocketed.

This public school system is ours, not theirs … and not our governor’s.  If we leave the choice of the new system up to anyone but Caddo taxpayers who insist on – and take responsibility for – something better for our children, shame on us.

Elliott Stonecipher

No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.

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