Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
Story Archives: Challenges await education reforms
- 2013 - 845 articles
- 2012 - 1954 articles
- December 2012 - 131 articles
- November 2012 - 191 articles
- October 2012 - 183 articles
- September 2012 - 186 articles
- August 2012 - 211 articles
- July 2012 - 134 articles
- June 2012 - 139 articles
- May 2012 - 212 articles
- May 31st, 2012 (Thursday) - 29 articles
- May 30th, 2012 (Wednesday) - 1 articles
- May 28th, 2012 (Monday) - 2 articles
- May 27th, 2012 (Sunday) - 5 articles
- May 25th, 2012 (Friday) - 3 articles
- May 24th, 2012 (Thursday) - 36 articles
- May 23rd, 2012 (Wednesday) - 1 articles
- May 22nd, 2012 (Tuesday) - 3 articles
- May 21st, 2012 (Monday) - 3 articles
- May 20th, 2012 (Sunday) - 11 articles
- May 18th, 2012 (Friday) - 1 articles
- May 17th, 2012 (Thursday) - 33 articles
- May 16th, 2012 (Wednesday) - 1 articles
- May 15th, 2012 (Tuesday) - 1 articles
- May 12th, 2012 (Saturday) - 1 articles
- May 10th, 2012 (Thursday) - 36 articles
- May 9th, 2012 (Wednesday) - 1 articles
- May 8th, 2012 (Tuesday) - 2 articles
- May 7th, 2012 (Monday) - 1 articles
- May 5th, 2012 (Saturday) - 3 articles
- May 4th, 2012 (Friday) - 3 articles
- May 3rd, 2012 (Thursday) - 32 articles
- May 1st, 2012 (Tuesday) - 3 articles
- April 2012 - 167 articles
- March 2012 - 165 articles
- February 2012 - 129 articles
- January 2012 - 106 articles
- 2011 - 2029 articles
- 2010 - 2139 articles
- 2009 - 2066 articles
- 2008 - 1757 articles
|Challenges await education reforms|
Louisiana's Department of Education is preparing to implement what Gov. Bobby Jindal calls a scholarship program for students in poorly performing public schools.
The plans for putting the program into operation remain tentative and nebulous.
The program allows students from poorly performing schools to enroll in schools that perform better on standardized tests. If a student is awarded a scholarship and opts to enroll in a private or parochial school, the tuition would be paid with state funding that otherwise would have followed the student to the school he or she left.
Part of the problem is the legislative act that authorized the school choice program did not include an effective date. That means that although Jindal has signed the act into law, it will not take effect until Aug. 1. State lawmakers approved the scholarship program weeks ago during the regular legislative session.
State Education Superintendent John White spoke with The Ouachita Citizen earlier this week.
He said the Department of Education is proceeding with the rules for the program. The criteria to secure a scholarship has been established, and the information is available on the department's website at http://www.louisianaschools.net/topics/scholarships_for_excellence.html
To be eligible for a scholarship, a student must have attended a Louisiana public school last year that received a grade of F, D or C. The student's family income cannot exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Students who were not in public school last year cannot qualify, except for new kindergarten enrollees. The income level for a family of four cannot exceed $67,525 annually for a child to be eligible.
White said the criteria means that a majority of public schoolchildren in Louisiana will qualify for the scholarships.
"Sixty percent of our kids statewide are eligible for this program," he said. "(That's) 380,000 students."
Anticipated applications fall nowhere near that figure. White did not say how many applicants are expected to apply for scholarships.
"I can't say that there's no type of projection, because obviously we're not projecting 200,000 students, for example," White said. "But in terms of 'do we think that it's a useful thing to try to guess where between, say, 3,000 and 7,000,' I don't think so. We're not making those types of projections until we can gauge student interest and school capacity."
That probably will not surface for another six weeks at least. Schools and systems that intend to participate in the scholarship program must apply by May 18. Students can begin submitting applications May 22, but the application period doesn't close until June 29.
According to White, Department of Education staffers have been handling the 2,000 or so applications submitted to the pilot program already operating in the Orleans Recovery School District. They also will process the statewide applications, which he conceded would be a big job. He expressed confidence that they could finish by the end of July so that students can be notified whether their applications have been accepted and what schools they will attend when the new school year begins in August.
White stressed that the school choice program was not about privatization.
"This is a school choice program, not a private school choice program specifically," he said. "When we haven't done everything we would want to have done for the child, that government is in a position to tell a child where they should go to school. And this is in essence a way of giving the right of school choice to those whom government has failed."
Ouachita Parish Schools Superintendent Bob Webber said it was unlikely the parish school system would participate in the school choice program. He expects the School Board will vote against doing so very soon.
"I have polled our principals and I agree with them," Webber said. "We simply don't have the space to start offering the scholarships/vouchers. Most of our schools are crowded already."
Local private schools may not provide many slots for scholarship students, either.
Ouachita Christian School will not participate in the scholarship program. Jesus the Good Shepherd School and St. Frederick High School will announce May 18 whether the schools will accept scholarship students.
River Oaks School did not return telephone calls to comment.
If there are not enough slots available for all scholarship applicants, White said a lottery would determine who gets a seat. He also noted that students must submit a list of preferred schools but may not gain admission to their top choice.
The school choice program does not provide for transportation costs, even if the child uses a scholarship to attend a school in a different parish.
Opponents of the school choice program claim it may be unconstitutional because the program relies on state Minimum Foundation Program dollars to pay for it. MFP funding finances K-12 public education in Louisiana.
Those opponents say the state Constitution does not allow the expenditure of public dollars on school expenditures at private and parochial schools.
White says when public schools fail to educate children properly it is incumbent upon the state to offer children alternatives. Critics of the program, though, say it will unconstitutionally send state tax dollars to private entities.
White pointed out that while the MFP money will "follow the child" regardless of what school he or she attends, locally raised tax funds stay with the local public school district. He also noted that the scholarship program could actually save public schools money.
"They lose those children, so they also don't have to educate those kids," White said. "In other words, they're losing not just the revenue but the cost. Not only that, they keep all federal dollars for those students, and that's on average $1,500 per child."
White called it a money-saving plan for another reason.
"If there is a difference between what the MFP is and what the private school tuition is, the state and the local split the savings," White said. " Statewide average, the MFP is $8,500 and tuition on average is $4,500. There's $4,000 in savings, and the state and the local district split those things."
Webber said there are two ways to look at it.
"Certainly if a student leaves us and goes to a private or charter school, we're not going to get to keep the MFP funding," he said.
Sandie Lollie is a regional vice president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees. She opposes using MFP funding to pay for tuition at private or parochial schools.
"MFP money was designated by the taxpayers for, by my understanding, public education," Lollie said. "There are those who feel like it's a violation of the law to take that money and use it for private, parochial, Catholic or any other kind of education outside of the public domain."
Lollie said she's been told lawsuits may be filed because of that constitutional question. Her opinion is that there are too many unanswered questions about the school choice program to proceed with it in its current form.
Editor's Note: Due to a printing glitch, the Thursday, May 10 print edition of The Ouachita Citizen inadvertently left off a significant portion of this story. We will re-run this story in its entirety in the May 17 print edition. A complete copy is also found below.
For the full story, subscribe to the The Ouachita Citizen's NEW E-Edition!