Voucher program to see more changes

Louisiana’s voucher program that provides taxpayer-financed private school tuition for thousands of students is reshaping how the state spends its education dollars and which options are available to parents.

But the first wide-ranging outside review of the program, done for state lawmakers, raises questions about the quality of the options given to students who otherwise would attend public schools, according to the Associated Press.

According to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office, the ability to switch from a poor-performing public school to a private school won’t necessarily ensure a higher quality education for students.

The audit says the state Department of Education isn’t properly monitoring the voucher program to make sure students are placed in private schools that demonstrate student achievement.

Gov. Bobby Jindal described his push for the statewide voucher program as a way to offer better educational opportunities to students and to offer choice to parents.

However, all the voucher program is certain to offer is choice, according to the audit.

The voucher program began in 2008 in New Orleans. Lawmakers agreed to Jindal’s request to expand it statewide in 2012.

Taxpayer-financed tuition through the program is available to students from low- to moderate-income families who otherwise would attend public schools graded C, D or F in the state’s rating system.

The program, estimated by the education department to cost $36 million this year, has more than 6,700 students across 126 schools. Test results that have been released showed mixed results about performance.

The audit says the education department doesn’t have checks and balances in place to confirm the private schools that receive public tax dollars offer an “academically acceptable” education or have the space, equipment and staff to teach the voucher students they receive.

Superintendent of Education John White has defended his department’s oversight of the voucher program, saying it has strong protections and leads the nation in rigorous accountability standards.

White told lawmakers that the voucher students take the same standardized tests as public school students, and he said those scores are released so parents can see how students are performing. He said parents also have access to parental satisfaction surveys and other information released by individual private schools.

In addition, voucher schools will receive a “scholarship cohort index” calculated in a similar fashion to public school performance scores.

The wrinkle is the schools get the rating only if they have 40 or more voucher students in third through 12th grades or an average of at least 10 voucher students per grade, according to the audit. That means there won’t be scores for all schools that take voucher students.

Current regulations say the education department can oust a school from the program or refuse to allow it to accept new voucher students if it has “demonstrated gross or persistent lack of basic academic competence,” without defining specific criteria.

Seven schools weren’t allowed to enroll new students this year because of poor student performance. Another school was kicked out.

The auditor’s office suggested the education department should develop stricter procedures for removing poor-performing schools.

But the questions raised by the auditor’s office revisited issues that lawmakers considered – and discarded – during their 2012 debate on the program. They instead chose to leave most of the accountability requirements for the private schools to the education department.

Short URL: http://www.jenningsdailynews.net/?p=24603

Posted by on Jan 2 2014. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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