The three dozen episodes of the “Students Over Systems” podcast series featured passionate parents and policymakers who are expanding education opportunities for students, parents, and educators. “Students Over Systems” guests included Senator Tim Scott, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, education freedom advocates Virginia Walden Ford and Corey DeAngelis, former governors Jeb Bush, Doug Ducey, and Scott Walker, and other state leaders. The series highlighted education freedom policies that empower families with leverage, control, and options. 

On the final “Students Over Systems” episode, I spoke with Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley about accelerating academic recovery; letting teachers teach; protecting Title IX; and, most importantly, expanding educational freedom in the Pelican State. Dr. Brumley—a former teacher, coach, school leader, and district superintendent—has served as state superintendent since 2020. Under his leadership, Louisiana safely reopened schools, prioritized academic achievement, and launched a reading revival. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation is below. Thank you for listening to “Students Over Systems.” Keep celebrating education freedom and brighter futures!

Ginny: You are a former public school teacher and leader who supports school choice, and you even wrote an op-ed earlier this year about how education savings accounts would enrich Louisiana. Why is that?

Dr. Brumley: [A]s a traditional public school superintendent, I was always a pro-school choice guy. We opened a number of charter schools while I was a system superintendent. We expanded transfer options for families. We did a lot of work just to try to make sure that families and kids had access to higher-quality schools and were able to access higher-quality seats. And so we have continued that, but really accelerated that in the role here as state superintendent. Over the last four years, unfortunately, we worked on a number of ESA bills that were ultimately vetoed by our previous governor. And so one of the things that I wanted to do was write that particular op-ed around educational savings accounts, expanding opportunities because what we’re seeing is a southern renaissance of states throughout the south that are seeing economic growth.

One of the things I’ve tried to share with our legislators, our business community, and educators is that ESAs are not only good for families and kids by expanding options, but they’re really good for the economy because you can tell potential businesses that might be interested in coming to your state that if you come to our state, the dollars for your employee’s kids will follow the kid. You’re in the driver’s seat of where your child can receive educational options. And so we pushed really hard on that. And now with the help of our governor, Governor Jeff Landry, it looks like we have an ESA bill that’s universal that will soon cross the finish line.

Ginny: The legislature has proposed legislation known as the GATOR Scholarship Program, Gator Standing for Giving All True Opportunity to Rise. Impressive use of acronyms.

Dr. Brumley: I think we just wanted the GATOR and we found words to make it fit. 

Ginny: Louisiana has had an existing voucher program or scholarship program for a long time. What happens to that when the GATOR program is in place?

Dr. Brumley: [W]e have about 6,000 kids across the state, a small number of whom participate in our voucher program—our scholarship program. It was an initial step a decade or so ago to try and work into this space. But what we know to be true at this point is that that program has its limitations, and we really see an ESA as a more Cadillac, inclusive, expanded opportunity. And so what will happen with the current voucher students is that the program will actually fold itself into the GATOR program. And so all of those students will remain with the schools or the options, except they will be part of GATOR moving forward. And actually, they’ll have more options than just being able to use their dollars on the school because GATOR will expand to tutoring services and other educational providers other than just the everyday school tuition and fees.

Ginny: Historically, these scholarship or voucher programs were targeted to students who either had disabilities, students with special needs with IEPs, or students from families who were of lower income. How does it work with the GATOR program? Is there an income cap initially?

Dr. Brumley: The first year of GATOR, the existing scholarship students will fold over into the program. There is some prioritization of low-income families and students in the first year, students entering kindergarten, and students transferring from a public school; that’s the first year. And then it basically has two phases beyond that. And with each of those phases, more students are made eligible. And so by the third phase, it’s universal eligibility. And so I think our legislature was really crafty and smart in the way in which they worded that because they didn’t say year one, year two, year three; they said phase one, phase two, and phase three. And so essentially we’ll work our way through the phases based on appropriations with prioritization at the beginning to scholarship kids, lower-income families, and special needs students. But as we work our way through the phases, we move towards universal eligibility. And I think that that’s clearly what our governor wants and what our state board wants and where we’re trying to go.

Ginny: Not all of your superintendents want this. St. Tammany school superintendent Frank Jabbia released a statement saying that the ESA “threatens to undermine the mission of public education.” So why are you undermining the mission of public education?

Dr. Brumley: [O]ur local school systems have been fairly vocal against the ESA model in the state of Louisiana. I’ve spent considerable time having conversations explaining the program; but at the end of the day, we’re almost crossing the finish line and they are still red-carding the legislation and asking legislators to not pass the legislation. 

I think that you can have one and still have the other. I don’t think that it is the end of public education because you have an ESA program. In fact, what I think will happen is obviously more families will have options, and because of that, you’ll have more competition and it will cause all the boats to have to rise. And if they don’t, then they won’t be in business. And so I really think that the pressure and the incentives and the competition from the ESA is going to make everyone stronger. I serve in a role where I work with traditional public schools and our public charter partners. I try to protect the independence of our homeschool families. We work with our non-public, and we just see the ESAs as an additional option for families as we move the state forward.

Ginny: Louisiana is kind of famous for having one of the weakest, or maybe the weakest, private scholarship programs in the country. What can you say to assure everyone, both the advocates and the people who oppose the program, that this is going to be different?

Dr. Brumley: [L]et’s call it what it is. It’s called the worst scholarship program in the country. And so I spend a lot of time working with schools to convince them to stay in the program. I spend a lot of time working with families to make sure that they’re comfortable in the program. And so really we think as we move the scholarship program to the ESA, it will solve for so many of those issues. 

I know also that at the end of the day, next year, the year after, overwhelmingly the majority of the students in the state of Louisiana are going to be in one of our traditional public or public charters because the infrastructure isn’t there otherwise. And so that’s why I’m so deeply committed to transforming work there as well and making sure that we’re going back to the basics and teaching kids how to read and do math, making sure that there’s law and order in the classrooms, making sure that parents have options to have their kids in higher performance seats. And so we’re trying to work on all fronts because we have, as I said, been long challenged in the state of Louisiana educationally, although recently we have improved in the national rankings. And as of last week, we have the highest national ranking that the state has ever held. So we’re doing good work in that space, but certainly more work is needed. And certainly, we’re excited about the educational freedom work.

Ginny: I’d love to hear more about how you are supporting the educators. Obviously, educational freedom is beneficial for educators, but often our conversation is around the benefit to the family and the students. What are you doing that is going to help all the educators in the state?

Dr. Brumley: [I] think the educational system has been distracted for far too long. And what we’re seeing now is the creep of radical ideologies into schools, not just in Louisiana but across the country. And we’re losing the fundamental focus on the reasons for which schools exist. It is academic learning. It is the pursuit of excellence. It is making sure that every student has an equal opportunity to be successful. And so those are the things for which we’re working. What is critical for all of that is the elevation of the teaching profession and the professionalizing teaching. So at the turn of the year, our governor in his inaugural address says, look, he wants to let teachers teach. So I ripped him off, quite frankly, and I stole his tagline, and we built the Let Teachers Teach work group. And so I had about 30 teachers from across the state and I said, look, this is not a check-the-box activity. I want solutions. 

We’re going to look at: What are the excessive trainings and paperwork that you face? What are the things that are preventing you from being able to display the art of teaching and how can we better deal with distractions and behaviors that are keeping other kids from learning and you from teaching? And so… we rolled out 18 teacher-friendly recommendations that keep students at the forefront and make sure that parents’ rights continue to be honored. Because one thing I always say is that, outside of the parent or guardian, there are really few things more important than the classroom teacher. And so we’re trying to focus on improving the life of the daily classroom teacher.

Ginny: What sort of support do you get from teachers unions when you’re working on these endeavors?

Dr. Brumley: I can’t count on that. As a matter of fact, the union was not represented in the press conference we held today. And when we released recommendations today, we covered things like stopping mandating teachers to be mental health professionals. Teachers aren’t mental health professionals. Surely kids need access to mental health care outside of the school or otherwise, but legislatively, there needs to stop being a demand for teachers to be mental health professionals. Next, we mentioned the fact that students who are habitually ungovernable should be removed from teacher’s classrooms and potentially placed in alternative settings where they can get the support that they need. But back to the classroom level, the teachers can actually teach and kids can actually learn. And so these are some of the recommendations that we rolled out, as well as things like abolishing antiquated lesson planning practices. And if you’re forcing teachers to work on non-academic themes beyond the school day, compensate them. These are fairly simple themes that we’re asking of our legislation, our state board, and school systems to do to help teachers.

Ginny: I believe there was something called the Louisiana Comeback campaign. Was that specific to recovering from the pandemic there are closures and the resulting learning loss in chronic absenteeism?

Dr. Brumley: Louisiana was in the top 10 of states to have students in daily face-to-face instruction. Our previous governor and Department of Health called me reckless because I was having students in daily face-to-face instruction. I put power back in the hands of parents to determine if their child would be quarantined instead of these ridiculous never-ending quarantines that were being imposed on students and families. And so they called me reckless. And what we found is that that was very popular. Never in the history of our country have we quarantined well people. And we decided to do that. We didn’t decide, but leaders decided to do that during the pandemic. And so we put an end to all of that, but every state across the country received federal stimulus dollars with Covid ESSER dollars. And so my commitment that I made to our state is we’re going to take those dollars and we’re going to be very transparent.

So we created what’s called Louisiana Comeback. Our families, our legislators, and the business community could go into the website we created. You could look at the spending for every school system, you could see where they were spending those funds. And we asked school systems to prioritize in a few key areas. And overwhelmingly they did. And most recently, I think it was a Stanford study that came out and it said Louisiana was one of only three states to see full recovery from the pandemic, and they called it a remarkable achievement. 

Ginny: The ESSER funding was $190 billion across all of the states, and it is wrapping up and budgets are contracting as a result, which was totally predictable. This was temporary supplemental pandemic-era funding. But we are hearing a lot about budget cuts and potential closures and layoffs because so many school districts hired permanent staff with temporary federal dollars. So this transparency that you put in place, this accountability, that’s a great way and setting priorities for investing these funds, that definitely was a smart way to prevent the problems that we’re going to be seeing in school districts across the country. 

You all are good at naming your various initiatives. There’s a Louisiana Literacy Initiative, and so what’s going on there? I would imagine that is also related to the fact that you are coming up in the national rankings by prioritizing literacy.

Dr. Brumley: I think educators and the educational system collectively confused children on how to learn to read over the last few decades. And so we’re following the science of reading work. We’re implementing the science of reading work. We are removing all of the chaotic crazy strategies to teach children how to read. We have gone into colleges of education and taken over their coursework and how they teach their pre-service teachers to teach children how to read. And so really we have a combination of efforts on this front. And look, when the Nation’s Report Card came out on NAEP scores this last release, we led the country in fourth-grade reading growth. And so our students in the state of Louisiana actually had higher reading levels on NAEP after the pandemic than before the pandemic. And so we think it’s just a part of trying to remove radical ideology and distractions from the classroom and just focus on the most important things.

Ginny: Are other states going into the colleges of education and getting at how teachers are being taught to teach reading because it seems like you’re not going to fix it if they’re coming out trained to do things wrong and professional development is all focused on woke nonsense.

Dr. Brumley: [W]e have been able to maintain a good relationship with our colleges, but certainly some of the professors have not agreed with our position and they wanted their academic freedom. And why are you telling me how to teach children how to read? I know best, but frankly, too many student graduates were coming out of the Colleges of Education and not knowing how to teach children how to read. I mean, that just seems like basic to me. That should be something they accomplished over four years of college. Teach the teacher how to teach someone how to read. So we had work to do there. 

But beyond just the colleges of education, let me just say I’m less interested in teacher certification and more interested in teacher quality. And so we have taken on that particular interest and we’ve created apprenticeship programs for teachers, associate degree programs for teachers, contracting opportunities for teachers. We’re taking individuals with bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees and matching them to a content area going around the colleges of education. And so I did get a lot of pushback from our unions on these particular issues. Also pushback from my belief in differentiated compensation, merit pay paying teachers more if they’re in a more market-needy content area. But we’re trying to look at this holistically and do everything that we can from a smart standpoint to make sure that kids have access to high-quality teachers.

Ginny: We are, of course, going to end with school choice and education freedom, but before we do that, I want to quickly address Title IX, what’s going on with the Biden administration, the regulations that they proposed. Share a little bit about your position on what they proposed to do to Title IX.

Dr. Brumley: What we did when these radical shifts that eviscerate what we know about Title IX came through, I issued a letter to school systems across the state and said, look, do not comply. Do not comply. I’m concerned that these, other than violating common sense, I’m concerned that they create First Amendment issues. I’m concerned that they seek to break down the longstanding protections afforded to women through Title IX, and you really called this issue out, and I thank you for that. And I fundamentally agree it’s going to create unnecessary bureaucracies in early care centers and K-12 and colleges to enforce impossible rules.

I can’t believe that this is even something we’re dealing with, but it is. And so we joined, and we’re actually named in the suit, our attorney general in the state of Louisiana, and I think we filed the first suit in the nation against the Biden administration and Secretary Cardona at the U.S. Department of Education because of our concerns with what they’re trying to impose on Louisiana and on states across the country,

Ginny: You issued a memo to educational institutions in the state saying, do not comply, and here’s why. You also wisely advised them to consult their lawyers and then said, lawsuits are coming. And then immediately lawsuits—a cascade of lawsuits—began. [T]his Title IX regulation is scheduled to be implemented on August 1st, but all these lawsuits are coming and it’s probably not going to be implemented on August 1st, so hold your horses.

Dr. Brumley: [I] just told our systems, look, just take a pause. Hold on. Let this thing play itself out and it’s going to play itself out. And I choose to believe that decency and common sense and the protection of our youth and protection of rights afforded to females will be restored at some point. And this really is just a line-in-the-sand issue. It’s a bridge too far. And so for the state of Louisiana as well as other like-minded states, we’re just saying, enough is enough. Do not comply.

Ginny: And for listeners who are like, “I’m here for the school choice conversation, what is this Title IX regulation they’re talking about?” please go to We have so many resources on what’s going on with Title IX. We also have a Title IX bus tour coming up this summer.

Dr. Brumley: And you’ve done a fantastic job on this issue outside of the traditional ed freedom issues. You’ve done a really good job on the Title IX issue; but to me, Title IX is an ed choice issue. It is an ed freedom issue because if this isn’t solved, what makes the case even more for ed freedom than something like this?

Ginny: Certainly parents who don’t want males, boys self-identifying into their daughter’s spaces and opportunities and scholarships and sports are not going to stay in the public system.

Let’s go back to the good news, which is education freedom. I’m sure in this fight for the GATOR program, you’ve been hearing all kinds of school choice myths. So what’s the school choice myth that bothers you the most and that you want to tackle today?

Dr. Brumley: [T]he thing that I hear the most is that it is a complete attempt to dismantle public education altogether. First and foremost, I think ESA is public education because you are allowing the public dollars to follow the child at the family’s discretion. So for me, an ESA or a voucher program or homeschool (with or without an ESA) or a growing number of public charters, which we support, or our traditional public schools that are improving, it is just about finding the school that makes the most sense for the parent and the child. And what’s interesting about that too is that even within a household, there are multiple options available and families often tell me, look, this particular school doesn’t fit my child. It fit my older child, but not my younger child. And so they appreciated the opportunities to have options that meet the needs of their individual children. And so in the state of Louisiana, I’m proud to say that we are expanding options, and I think that in a few weeks, we’ll have a GATOR scholarship on the governor’s desk, and that will take that to the next level.

Ginny: We love seeing the expansion of education freedom across the country, and Louisiana has a long history of supporting school choice; but great that it’s going to be a robust program that’s truly going to serve not just students and families, but also educators, going forward. Thank you so much, Superintendent Brumley, for joining me today and for leading with so many different policy positions and programs, doing that courageously, and for supporting the expansion of education freedom in your state.

Dr. Brumley: Well, thanks for having me. It is been fun to reminisce over some of our bodies of work and keep getting the word out and keep using your platform for the good of all.

Ginny: We definitely will be doing that. We hope listeners have found today’s conversation and our 35 Other Students Over Systems episodes, informative and encouraging. To learn more about the work of the IWF Education Freedom Center, please go to Thank you so much for listening to Students Over Systems over the last year and a half. Please keep celebrating education freedom and brighter futures.