Demand Grows for Private School Vouchers in Louisiana
Louisiana has handed out more than 8,800 school vouchers to students for this coming school year, marking a 30 percent increase since the program expanded statewide in 2012, according to a statement from Governor Bobby Jindal and the state's education department. The governor has been a champion of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which awards state money to qualifying students to attend approved private schools.
There were more than 13,000 applications for the scholarships.
Although growing at a good clip, the voucher program hasn't been without controversy. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state last year over the scholarships saying the vouchers "impede the desegregation process." Many previous scholarship awardees had attended public schools that were under federal desegregation orders.
A judge ruled last April that the state must provide the feds with some data on scholarship recipients, but rejected the Justice Department's request for veto power over awarding individual scholarships.
"We will continue working to improve education across our state and protect the scholarship program so that more students have an opportunity to get a great education," Jindal said in the statement.
The scholarships were originally a New Orleans-only program dating back to 2008 until lawmakers expanded it statewide in 2012.
For students to be eligible for the program, they must have attended a low-performing public school (graded C, D, or F by the state) the previous year, or be about to enter kindergarten in a low-graded school. The state also caps how much money their families can make—only those earning 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less are eligible for school vouchers.
Louisiana also has requirements for participating private schools. All of them undergo "a rigorous review process involving independent accreditation, [state] department of education surveys, and site visits," the statement said. Students attending private schools with tax-credit scholarships must also take the same assessment tests as their counterparts in public schools.
Despite the demands, the state says nearly one-third of eligible private schools have opted into the program.
Photo: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks to reporters during the National Governors Association meeting earlier this year in Washington. --Charles Dharapak/AP-File