Louisiana parents remain largely satisfied with their kids’ new private schools four months after joining a program that expanded New Orleans vouchers statewide, according to numbers from the state’s education department.
Of the 4,944 voucher students in September 2012, 4,815 remained in December, according to two of the four annual counts at all schools participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The state counts students before sending schools scholarship money for each.
“Oh gosh, it’s wonderful,” said Cyndi Maurice of the program. Her daughter Alyssa, 8, attends Our Lady of Divine Providence School in Metairie. It’s one of 117 private schools participating in the program’s first year.
Alyssa’s new teachers adapt their instruction to how her daughter learns, Maurice said. The teachers “are just outstanding.”
Melissa Ligon cited “the environment” when heaping praise on Hosanna Christian School in Baton Rouge, where she has three children enrolled.
“It’s more friendly,” she said. “It is open-door. I’m welcome to come in freely and monitor my kids.”
The high retention numbers aren’t surprising, considering that 10,400 children originally applied for vouchers. The education department used a lottery to determine recipients.
Funds come from Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), a fund the state constitution designates for education. The vouchers pay private tuition for low-income students who would otherwise have to attend schools the state graded C, D, or F.
Shelly Stabile told the Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC) that when son Kaden, 5, heard he could attend Northlake Christian Academy in Covington, where Kaden had attended a summer camp, “he was so excited, jumping up and down, hugging me.”
Stabile, a single mother who cannot afford private tuition, yearned to provide her son a sound education, she said.
Labor unions have sued to stop the scholarship program. In November, District Judge Tim Kelley ruled it unconstitutional for the state to use MFP funds to pay private tuition.
Even so, Kelley allowed the program to continue while state lawyers appeal to the state Supreme Court. LFC spokeswoman Stephanie Ryan said her organization will join the appeal.
Louisiana’s constitution does not prohibit vouchers as long as all public education needs are met, Ryan said, and ending vouchers would damage academic progress students have already made.
“Fifth-graders who enrolled at their scholarship school on a second-grade reading or math level have improved nearly a grade level in just a few months, thanks to the intensive tutoring they are receiving at their new school,” Ryan said.
The Pelican Institute estimates the scholarships—which average $5,300, compared to taxpayer costs of $8,500 for each public school student—save Louisiana taxpayers $18 million annually.
“If the state Supreme Court does not overturn the ruling on funding, the money for vouchers can be taken from a different pot of money,” said Kevin Kane, the institute’s president. “The program should survive regardless of the outcome in court.”
Image by U.S. Coast Guard.