Voucher Program

In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature passed the School Choice Bill (HB 976 and SB 597), which made over 350,000 public school students eligible for private school vouchers.

Latest News

December 2013 – Almost half of Louisiana’s voucher students were at D or F level schools in 2012-13, according to the state’s 2012-13 voucher report. Read more in Educate Now!’s Voucher Program Lacking or in this article from the Times-Picayune.

November 2013 – It appears that Louisiana’s voucher program will continue, but a U.S. District Court Judge has ordered the state to work with the Justice Department to come up with a plan that allows the Justice Department to review voucher assignments before they go out to families to make sure they don’t result in increased segregation.

August 2013 – The federal U.S. Justice Department is suing Louisiana to block vouchers for students in parishes that are under federal desegregation orders. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) says it may be time to revisit the desegregation orders if it means forcing kids to attend failing schools in the name of racial integration.

June 2013 – The Legislature approves a budget that included money to pay for the voucher program for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year and for the 2013-14 school year (enough to fund more than the 5,000 students from this year but less than the 8,000 projected for next year).

May 2013The Legislature begins dealing with the question of voucher funding. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that using the MFP to fund vouchers is unconstitutional, which means the state has to find another way to pay for the program. Read more in these articles from the Times-Picayune and the Advocate.

Shakeout from school voucher ruling by Louisiana Supreme Court begins
Times-Picayune – May 15, 2013

Vouchers Likely to Stay Around
The Advocate – May 20, 2013

May 2013 – Louisiana Supreme Court rules voucher funding is unconstitutional.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. The ruling states, “Once funds are dedicated to the state’s Minimum Foundation Program for public education, the constitution prohibits those funds from being expended on the tuition costs of nonpublic schools and nonpublic entities.” This ruling affects both the state’s voucher program and its course choice program, which pays for high school students in low-performing schools to take classes from outside providers.

 So what does this mean? 

  • The voucher program still exists; it just doesn’t have funding. Prior to last year, vouchers were not funded with MFP dollars; rather, the money came from a different funding instrument – the State General Fund (SGF).
  • There is still time during this session for the legislature to provide funding from the SGF for the voucher program. If they choose to do so, one question will be, will they only fund the costs for the current voucher students (around 5,000) or will they also fund the planned expansion of the voucher program (another 3,000 students)?
  • Voucher proponents will need to fight to get these dollars added to the SGF at the same time legislators are trying to deal with a major budget deficit.
  • The fine print: Moving the current voucher funding away from the MFP and into the State General Fund will not increase the net cost to the state. Long story short: the average cost of the voucher program this year was right around the cost of the state share of the MFP. Educate Now! does not know what the estimated cost of the program is for 2013-14, with more students and increasing tuitions.

Background and History

In 2008, the Louisiana Legislature passed the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program to provide tuition vouchers to low-income students in Orleans Parish to attend private and parochial schools or public schools outside of Orleans Parish. The purpose was to give parents better, higher quality school options other than attending a failing school.

In 2012, Governor Jindal proposed expanding the voucher program statewide. The Choice Bill (HB 976 and SB 597) was passed in the 2012 regular session and made over 350,000 students eligible for vouchers. Read an overview of the education bills in the legislative session.

Education advocates and good-government groups weighed in on the School Choice voucher legislation, including the Bureau of Governmental Research, the Public Affairs Research Council, and Educate Now!

Responding to pressure for more voucher accountability, the legislature amended the Choice Bill to give the State Superintendent and BESE the authority to implement accountability for the scholarship program.

May 2012 – The LA Department of Education releases a list of voucher schools by parish, including tuition information and the number of approved slots.

July 2012 - In A Tale of Two Schools, Educate Now! looks at two Orleans Parish voucher schools and the very different academic results they are achieving with their students.

July 2012 - BESE approved accountability standards, which had been proposed by Superintendent White.

Educate Now! reviewed the standards and concluded that they strike the right balance between the need for public accountability and the different ways private schools will participate in the program.

The Bureau of Governmental Research criticized White’s plan as not being tough enough, but the Council for a Better Louisiana said it was a much-needed step in the right direction.

September 2012 – Nearly 5,000 students signed up for the voucher program this year. For a list of scholarship enrollments in 2012-13 by participating school, click here.

September 2012 – Superintendent John White announced that private schools participating in the voucher program will undergo annual audits to examine how public money is being spent.

October 2012 - BESE agreed on new rules for nonpublic school approval.

Nonpublic schools can qualify for five-year approval if they are accredited annually by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or the National Association of Independent. Schools accredited by other groups can qualify for one-year approval if they submit their accreditation to BESE for review and approval. Schools that choose not to qualify through outside accreditation can go through BESE’s new, more rigorous online approval process. Only state-sanctioned private schools can apply to take voucher students.

November 2012 - Judges ruled on two voucher lawsuits, one state and one federal.

Voucher Lawsuit #1: State Courts
A state judge ruled the Louisiana school voucher program unconstitutional saying the state cannot use funds set aside for public education (the MFP) to pay private school tuition. The judge said the state can legally fund vouchers, but the funding “must come from some other portion of the general budget.” Governor Jindal says he plans to appeal. Read more from Fox 8 News or in these national stories from the New York TimesHuffington Post, and Education Week.

Voucher Lawsuit #2: Federal Courts
A federal judge issued a temporary injunction halting the use of vouchers in Tangipahoa Parish saying the program siphons off state dollars needed to implement the parish’s desegregation plan. Similar, decades-old desegregation orders exist in nearly half of the state’s parishes. The Louisiana Department of Education plans to appeal the ruling saying, “There was no evidence produced at the hearing as to why the scholarship program would impact the [desegregation] order.” Read more in this Town Talk article.

February 2013 - Voucher applications for 2014-15 school year available.

Applications for Louisiana’s voucher program made available but two big questions remained for families deciding whether to enroll their children: Will the state Supreme Court overturn a district ruling that voucher funding is unconstitutional, and which schools will be eligible to take more students next year? For more on the voucher application, view the Department of Education press release.

March 2013 – The state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Act 2 – Governor Jindal’s voucher legislation – is unconstitutional because it diverts public MFP funds to private entities. No immediate ruling was handed down.

May 2013 – The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that using the MFP to fund vouchers and Course Choice is unconstitutional, which means the state has to find another way to pay for the programs.

June 2013 – The Louisiana Legislature passed a budget that include money to pay for the voucher program for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year and for the 2013-14 school year (enough to fund more than the 5,000 students from this year but less than the 8,000 projected for next year).

August 2013 – The U.S. Justice Department decided to sue Louisiana to block vouchers for students in parishes that are under federal desegregation orders. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) said it may be time to revisit the desegregation orders if it means forcing kids to attend failing schools in the name of racial integration.

November 2013 – A U.S. District Court Judge ordered the state to work with the Justice Department to come up with a plan that allows the Justice Department to review voucher assignments before they go out to families to make sure they don’t result in increased segregation.

For more on vouchers, view some of the latest articles on voucher implementation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to receive a private school voucher?

  • Any student who meets the income eligibility standard of 250% of the poverty line at the time they enter the program. (There is no requirement to prove eligibility in subsequent years.)
    AND
  • Entering kindergarten OR
  • Attending a public school with a letter grade of C, D or F

Which schools are eligible to receive voucher students?

In July 2012, the Department of Education released a list of voucher schools by parish, including tuition information and the number of approved slots. For a list of scholarship enrollments in 2012-13 by participating school, click here.

How will we know if voucher schools are doing a good job?

In July 2012, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved accountability standards for voucher schools.

Educate Now! believes the new standards strike the right balance between the need for public accountability and the different ways private schools will participate in the program. The Council for a Better Louisiana said it was a much-needed step in the right direction, but the Bureau of Governmental Research criticized the standards as not being tough enough.

Beginning with the 2012-13 school year:

  • Schools with fewer than 10 voucher students in a tested grade and with fewer than a total of 40 voucher students enrolled in tested grades (3-11) will have their test results reported by grade (if more than 10 students) and by program (all students tested if more than 10 total).
  • Schools with more than 10 students in a tested grade or with a total of 40 or more voucher students enrolled in tested grades will:
    • Have a calculated Scholarship Index (like a School Performance Score) beginning with the 2012-13 school year, using only the test results of the scholarship students.
    • If a school’s Scholarship Index Score is below 50, which is equivalent to an F for public schools, then the school cannot enroll new scholarship students the following year.
  • Current scholarship students will be able to stay at the school or have priority enrollment preference at another participating scholarship school.
  • As outlined in the constitution, BESE shall also periodically determine if a participating school’s curriculum is at least equal to the curriculum prescribed for public schools. If it is not, and the situation is not remedied, a school could be ineligible for continued participation.

View more of Educate Now!’s review of the accountability standards.

How have voucher schools performed in the past? 

There have been voucher schools in Orleans Parish since 2008 as part of pilot voucher program. Some schools have done well in educating our students. Other schools have not.

In Voucher Performance Lacking, Educate Now! reviews the state’s 2012-13 voucher report, which shows that almost half of Louisiana’s voucher students were at D or F level schools.

In A Tale of Two Schools, Educate Now! looks at two Orleans Parish voucher schools in 2012 and the very different academic results they are achieving with their students.

In Louisiana voucher students score almost 30 points below average on LEAP tests, the Times-Picayune reviews 2012 voucher performance.
Times-Picayune - May 22, 2013

For more data and analysis of voucher performance, view Voucher Program Student Performance.

What do people think about Louisiana’s voucher program?

Louisiana’s voucher program continues to stir up controversy. View some of the latest articles on voucher implementation.

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