Louisiana is providing full funding for the state’s school choice program for the 2019-2020 school year.
Bipartisan majorities in both houses of the legislature passed H.B. 105, which provides $41.9 million for the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), on June 6, and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed it on June 18.
Created in 2008 and expanded statewide in 2012, the LSP allows students in low- and moderate-income families to transfer from failing public schools, or children entering kindergarten for the first time to enroll in, a participating private school of their choice.
“The Louisiana Scholarship Program provides access to quality education options for the state’s most at-risk students—with 100 percent coming from lower-income families and many having attended underperforming public schools,” Kelli Bottger, state director of the Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC), stated in a press release on June 7.
The program “received more than 10,000 applications from parents for the 2018-2019 school year with 6,892 students enrolled in 121 schools in 31 school districts across the state,” the LFC press release states. “Participation in the program has grown steadily since it was expanded statewide in 2012, when 4.967 students received scholarships.”
The program provides scholarships averaging $6,000 per student per school year for tuition at participating private schools.
Scholarship Parents Highly Satisfied
The LFC’s annual Parental Satisfaction Survey found an overwhelming majority of parents approve of the academic gains achieved and support the program, states the group’s press release. Specifically, “96.7 percent of parents surveyed were happy with their child’s academic progress and 92.5 percent of parents were very satisfied or satisfied with every aspect of their child’s Scholarship Program school.”
Sixty percent of LSP students graduating from high school enrolled in college in 2018.
Problem: State Tests, Curriculum
The LSP is not without its problems, says Jude Schwalbach, a research assistant in education policy at the Heritage Foundation.
“Only one-third of Louisiana’s private schools chose to participate in the program,” Schwalbach wrote in The Daily Signal on May 16.
LSP participants score lower on average than their peers in public schools on state tests, especially in math, states an evaluation of Louisiana by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas published on April 24.
The cause of the low participation and inability to recreate other states’ successes in academic achievement is Louisiana’s excessive regulation of schools in the LSP, Schwalbach says.
“To enroll scholarship recipients, participating private schools must participate in state testing, aligned with the public-school curriculum,” Schwalbach wrote.
Private schools are reluctant to participate in choice programs that are highly regulated, because the rules and mandates increase costs and prevent the schools from teaching the values and curriculum, they consider important.
‘Burdensome Regulations’ Curtail Choice
If scholarship schools are required to duplicate public school education, it is difficult for them to provide real alternatives, Schwalbach says.
“Burdensome regulations can prevent schools from creating a diverse education marketplace,” Schwalbach told School Reform News. “States serious about school choice should remember that parents who can vote with their feet, not heavy-handed government regulations, are a better accountability measure.”
There is much to be learned from Louisiana’s experience, says Don Soifer, president of Nevada Action for School Options.
“One takeaway we have from school choice research is that the specific details of a school choice program matter when it comes to its success and student outcomes,” Soifer said. “The Louisiana Scholarship Program is a heavily regulated private school choice program in ways that are likely, and unfortunately, holding back the success of participating students.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Patrick J. Wolf, et al., “How has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students? A Comprehensive Summary of Effects after Four Years,” Louisiana Scholarship Program Evaluation Policy Brief 4, School Choice Demonstration Project, Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, April 24, 2019: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/how-has-the-louisiana-scholarship-program-affected-students-a-comprehensive-summary-of-effects-after-four-years
Corey A. DeAngelis, Lindsey M. Burke, and Patrick J. Wolf, “The Effects of Regulations on Private School Choice Program Participation: Experimental Evidence from California and New York,” Working Paper 2019-07, University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform, March 12, 2019: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-effects-of-regulations-on-private-school-choice-program-participation-experimental-evidence-from-california-and-new-york