Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Parents shy away from voucher program

16th July 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

In what appears to be a blow to the governor’s sweeping educational voucher program, the State Department of Education told reporters on Wednesday that only around 9,000 students applied for the funds. Reports indicate that the voucher program, which passed the legislature this spring, would enable roughly half of the state’s public school students to use taxpayer dollars to pay private school tuition. One of the criteria for eligibility is that students must be attending a school receiving a C, D, or F grade.

The Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Fed­eration of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of School Boards have all filed lawsuits against the state to stop the voucher program, stating that it will damage the public education system by taking funds away from it. However, Judge Jim Kelley ruled on the July 11 that he did not have the authority to issue an injunction that would prevent the law from going into effect on August 1.

Also on the July 11, the Depart­ment of Education (DOE) issued a press release on stating that it had received over 10,000 applicants for the program, which had 7,450 slots, according to the DOE. However, Orleans Parish already has roughly 1,000 voucher recipients who were counted among the number of applicants, inflating the figure. The number of slots available contrasts with the roughly 450,000 students who would be eligible because they attend schools with failing grades. However, income is also a factor considered when determining voucher eligibility, with the cut-off being roughly $57,000 for a family of four. The Archdiocese of New Orleans told The Louisiana Weekly that it had offered 1700 spots in Orleans Parish.

Lance Hill, Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education Research at Tulane University and a member of the New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable told The Louisiana Weekly that the low number of applicants “proves that the voucher program is a disaster.” Noting that the premise for the voucher program is the idea that people would “stampede” out of public schools if given the chance, Hill said: “I think it’s safe to say that 98 percent of the parents did not feel that the school their child was attending was so poor performing that they need to take advantage of a private education.”

While the numbers are strikingly low, representing only two percent of the total potential applicants, Hill acknowledged that factors other than preference could play a part in the pool. “We don’t know if they rejected applications that were improperly filled out or sent them back to give them [the families] an opportunity to complete them,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. Hill also pointed out that “almost half the parishes…could not find voucher schools…who were willing to participate.”

Since its passage, the voucher program has been widely criticized for its lack of accountability measures for private schools accepting voucher dollars. The quality of education offered at these schools has also come under fire. Reuters cited the example of a school in Ruston, The New Living Word, which signed up for 314 voucher students, yet has no library and offers classroom instruction using DVDs.

Cases such as this led Superintendent John White to announce in a press call on Wednesday that accountability issues would be discussed in a special meeting later this month. However, no Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting is scheduled before the voucher program goes into effect on August 1, raising the question of when this meeting will take place.

White also unveiled a document outlining the “Criteria for Nonpublic School Participation in the Louisiana Scholarship Program.” The document states that its criteria reflect the values of “minimizing bureaucracy and complexity,” “upholding the public trust where public funds are involved” and protecting children’s well-being.

One area considered in the document is whether voucher students drop out or are expelled from their private schools, since this would offer some indication of how well they are educating

Schools with exaggerated, repeated, or uncorrected patterns of low relative rates of continued enrollment may be instructed to enroll no new students for one year or to fully end participation,” but reports criticize the document for giving the DOE ample room for discretion in determining whether voucher schools are truly serving their students.

This article was originally published in the July 16, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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