Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Less than 5,000 children statewide opt for school vouchers

24th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

The State Department of Education (DOE) announced on September 13 that 4,944 students had accepted vouchers to be able to pay tuition fees at schools. According to a press release from the DOE, 118 schools are participating in the program and accepting vouchers, which are funded with tax dollars. Of these, 117 are privately run while one is a traditional public school. The final figure of students accepting the voucher funds is a significant drop from the roughly 10,000 applicants the state announced in mid-July. Critics pointed out at that time, however, that roughly 1,000 of these applicants came from New Orleans where the voucher program was piloted.

The driving force behind the voucher program, or scholarship program as the DOE calls it, is the idea that public school students in schools that perform badly should be able to transfer. Students meeting the income eligibility criteria, roughly $57,000 for a family of four, and attending a school that has received a C, D, or F rating can apply to the program. 69 percent of the vouchers awarded, according to the DOE, were given to students attending a D-grade school.

However, in a conference call with journalists on July 23, Superintendent John White ack­nowledged that there was no guarantee that a student accepting the voucher dollars and transferring would actually enroll in a school with a higher performance score.

According to the DOE press release, 86 percent of the students accepting vouchers were African-American and 79 percent of all vouchers were designated for students in elementary school. The press release also stated that the program is offered “free” to students and that it “will result in an estimated savings of $18 million to Louisiana taxpayers this year. Participating schools receive the cost of tuition or the equivalent of per-pupil funding for the school district, whichever is less. The average scholarship is $5,300, compared to average per-pupil funding at public schools of $8,500.”

The voucher program has come under fire from teachers unions and school districts who assert that it transfers public dollars out of the public education system, essentially weakening an already troubled organization. Opponents to the program have filed lawsuits to overturn the law establishing the state-wide program.

John White, Louisiana’s Super­intendent of Education, stated in the DOE press release that “Parents deserve choices, especially parents in struggling sch­ools who don’t have the money to consider another op­tion.” His department has acknowledged, however, that special needs children, whom public schools are required by law to serve, do not have the same protection in the private school system. Advocates question whether the voucher program thus threatens to further marginalize hard-to-serve children and whether it is, in fact, discriminatory.

Disputing White’s position, Kelly Fischer explains the challenges facing her as the mother of an 11-year-old boy, Noah, who is blind and suffers from a severe form of autism. “I would actually have to sign away my rights, under the law, to receive services,” Fischer said of the voucher program. This, Fischer said, would put her and other parents in the position of having to pay out of pocket for the kind of educational support that is currently required by law in public schools. “And for many parents, like myself, that is not possible.”

This article was originally published in the September 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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