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New Voucher Rules for Private Schools in Louisiana

A new set of rules for private and parochial schools in Louisiana eligible for state tax dollars looks set to be approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, several months after the state adopted a plan to expand access to private school using public money, the Associated Press reported.

The key aspect of the rule changes, which were approved by the state board Tuesday, revolve around accreditation by third-party organizations, as a way to prove to parents and the state education department that outside groups approve how the schools in question operate.

The new voucher program championed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is open to students from families with incomes of up to 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines in schools receiving C, D, and F grades from the state. The program represents an expansion of the New Orleans voucher system.

But to be eligible for voucher students, private and parochial schools must be deemed eligible for public funds. The state board decided that instead of state certification, it would use outside agencies to determine schools' eligibility for those public funds. (Right now, nonpublic schools don't have to get state certification. Voucher foes in the state also say such certification isn't necessarily enough to ensure students in the program get a good education.)

Schools that receive annual accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or the National Association of Independent Schools would get a five-year approval for public dollars by the state, The Advocate newspaper reported Oct. 17. One rung down, schools accredited by other third-party groups would be eligible for one year. Finally, those schools without outside accreditation would have to go through an online survey to determine eligibility.

Superintendent of Education John White said that it would streamline the process of determining eligibility for the voucher program, particularly for those schools that receive national accreditation. Those schools would receive automatic approval for use of public funds.

"When we request large amounts of paperwork, which is what is currently required in our process, we take time away from educating," he told the AP.

One could look at this as a way for White and others to raise the standard for these schools while supposedly cutting away red tape, a double policy victory. But that view isn't likely to ease the fears of voucher opponents like the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, since the rules could only make it easier for many schools to participate in the statewide voucher program.

In Louisiana, according to the AP, 117 nonpublic schools are a part of the voucher program, while 376 in all are eligible for public funding.

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