Here's an item I lost sight of in the recent exchange of cannon fire between unions and state officials in Louisiana over a controversial, months-old voucher program: New regulations attached to that law create what look like pretty ambitious requirements for judging the academic performance of participating private schools.
The regulations, approved by the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week, would mandate that private schools that receive substantial numbers of students through the program hit state-designed academic targets—or lose their right to participate.
The state's department of education was required to draft the criteria as part of the state's voucher law, known as Act 2, and the regulations were then adopted by the board.
Under the regulations, all students receiving vouchers must take state tests—assuming they're enrolled in tested grades—the same requirements that public school students face. Schools that have more than 10 voucher students per grade, or more than 40 students in grades subject to state tests, will receive a "scholarship cohort index." The index will only measure the performance of students in the scholarship program, not the school as a whole, according to the approved regulations.
Schools that receive index scores below 50, on a scale of 150, in their second year participation, or any year after that, won't be allowed to enroll new voucher students the following year, according to the regulations. After four years, if a school has missed the index mark for the majority of years it has taken part in the program, it will only be able to accept new voucher students if it brings its scores up and receives a positive review from the state.
But the regs also say the state superintendent (currently John White) can waive the penalties under certain conditions, such as if the participating schools have made gains of more than 15 points on the index over the last four school years.
As we reported last week, Lousiana's voucher program is being challenged in court—and a state teachers' union has threatened individual private schools taking part with legal action.
Not all school choice proponents like the idea of forcing voucher schools to take part in state tests. But the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Adam Emerson praises Louisiana's model, calling it a "common-sense approach to accountability that other states should consider if they want to make their voucher programs more politically sustainable."
A number of states mandate that voucher schools take part in state or national tests. Indiana's recently adopted voucher law, for instance, requires private schools receiving students through the program to give state tests to all students—those on vouchers and those who aren't, according to the state's department of education. Those schools are graded on the state's A-F scale, just like public schools, and they face various limitations on their ability to accept new voucher students, if they receive low grades.