By Kimberly Wallis

So you found out your family will be headed to Fort Polk and you’re wondering how this will impact your child because Louisiana ranks among the last in the nation on education. Let’s put those fears to rest real quick; Louisiana as a whole may rank low on education, but you’re actually headed to a great area for public school systems!

Unlike many of you reading this who are assigned to this area, I had a choice and made a conscious decision to move back here mainly because I liked the public school system so much. At the time, I worked in San Antonio, Texas and while the schools there weren’t exactly bad, I was still concerned about the quality of education my children were receiving. I felt strongly enough about it that I was willing to take a massive pay cut to move back and can honestly say I never looked back on that decision with any degree of regret. Not only was the education better but communication with the staff was much easier and more personalized here than in a larger city.

I’ve created a bar chart to better illustrate how good the public school system is here, and I must admit that I was even pleasantly surprised by the results! For comparison purposes, we’ll use the two school districts that service Fort Polk (Vernon Parish School District and Beauregard Parish School District) with some that service posts most people hope for: Fort Bragg (Fort Bragg Unified School District), Fort Carson (Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8) and Fort Belvoir (Fairfax County Public Schools). On Niche’s website, Fort Belvoir is highly rated and the other four public school districts are all rated above average. 

A bar chart compares three school districts serving other Army posts with the two that serve Fort Polk.

You may notice that ACT scores were slightly lower here (only one point from the other two above average schools we compared). Many colleges require a 17, so this isn’t a bad average. However, what the chart doesn’t show is that all Louisiana students are required to take the ACT test, whether they are college bound or not. This requirement impacts district scores significantly! Consider this: would you, as a high school junior or senior, do your best on a time-consuming, challenging test when you knew the results didn’t matter in your life? An acquaintance’s son in the Vernon district took the ACT twice during his junior and sophomore year when he was considering going to college. Both times he scored a 17, everything he needed to receive the Taylor Opportunity Scholarship (TOPS) for technical school, but not quite what he needed to receive TOPS for a four year college. He took the ACT again his senior year, after he’d already determined he wasn’t going to college but instead technical school. He told his mom before he left the house he was not even going to try. He scored a 10. So when comparing Vernon and Beauregard ACT scores to the district scores in states where only those who are college bound take the ACT, remember the comparison is skewed. Fort Bragg and Fort Belvoir have no such requirement, although Fort Carson does require all students to take the SAT. 

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) reports graduation rates in Beauregard Parish maintaining a rate above 90 percent for eight consecutive years. Vernon Parish graduation rates increased 10 points over a five year period. Both of these districts now have a 95 percent graduation rate.

In all fairness, let’s talk about where Fort Polk’s two school districts could stand for some improvement. Dual enrollment is available for students in both districts, and many students here do take advantage of the program, but, much like the rest of Louisiana, we are still low on the total number of highschoolers utilizing dual-enrollment to gain college credits while in high school. Dual enrollment can actually help save money on a college education in most places, yet only about a quarter of eligible students are currently participating across the state! If you’d like more information on this program you can visit your particular school district’s website. Alternatively, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Regents recently launched a new dual enrollment online portal.

Hopefully, this information helps to assuage any fears you may have about Louisiana being ranked so low on education. Simply put, the state average does not do justice to the quality of education offered here.