Louisiana Private Schools Accept Unfunded Voucher Students as State Cuts Funding

Published September 12, 2016

Budget cuts impacting Louisiana’s school voucher program has landed hundreds of students on private school waitlists, though several schools have agreed to accept the students without any certainty of receiving the voucher funds.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) grants low-income students in poorly performing public schools vouchers worth an average of $5,856 per year to spend on private school tuition. In 2015, 7,110 students participated in the program, on which the state spent $42 million. Due to budget cuts in 2016, funding for the program dropped by about $2.5 million, leaving 362 students without the funds they need to attend the school of their choice.

John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, proposed what he called an “emergency plan” in August, asking schools to accept waitlisted students with the hope they will be paid back later.

The Times-Picayune reported in August, “If private schools agree to enroll these students anyway, without a guarantee of payment, White will go to the legislature in the spring and ask lawmakers for more money, he said. But if lawmakers’ answer is no, the schools would get less than $100 per child.”

As of late August, private schools had agreed to enroll 175 of the waitlisted students.  

LSP Saves Money, Study Shows

The School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas released a study in August that found although eliminating LSP “was proposed as a way to improve the financial situation of the Louisiana Department of Education budget,” canceling the program would likely result in “an overall cost increase.”

In the study, titled Squeezing the Public School Districts: The Fiscal Effects of Eliminating the Louisiana Scholarship Program, authors Corey A. DeAngelis and Julie R. Trivitt wrote, “We conclude that the overall fiscal impact on districts will be negative; in other words, the overall additional variable costs incurred by the districts will be greater than the overall additional funding provided to the districts. In fact, we find that only 2 to 7 of the 69 school districts would benefit from the elimination of the program. For the affected districts, the average outcome would be a financial loss of about $1,500 per returning voucher student in 2016. In each scenario, we find that over 80 percent of student transfers would result in a financial loss for the local district.”

DeAngelis told School Reform News the study’s findings contradict conventional thinking.

“We end up with a seemingly counterintuitive result: cutting a program costs the taxpayers money,” DeAngelis said.

‘Overly Simplistic’ View

Trivitt says the theory cutting programs saves money doesn’t take into account the complexities of the education funding system.

“We heard that ending the LSP program was being considered as a way to save money, but that is an overly simplistic view of education funding,” Trivitt said. “Since the state is obligated to make sure schools have adequate funding, you have to consider where the students will be educated without the LSP. When they go back to public schools, the state avoids one expenditure, but it increases another one. We knew this was an important consideration that needed to be part of the conversation.

“Without the LSP, districts have more students to educate, as voucher users are forced to return to public schools,” Trivitt said. “Schools need to make more copies of everything they hand out, more licenses for online curriculum, more school lunches, more staff time spent screening and assessing. The bus routes may include an extra mile or two every day to get all of the students home. In some schools that are already near capacity, the extra students may require additional teachers or staff to be hired.”

Trivitt says if the objective is to reduce education expenditures in the long run, “the program should be expanded, not cut.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.

Internet Info:

Corey A. DeAngelis and Julie R. Trivitt, Squeezing the Public School Districts: The Fiscal Effects of Eliminating the Louisiana Scholarship Program, School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, August 11, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/squeezing-the-public-school-districts-the-fiscal-effects-of-eliminating-the-louisiana-scholarship-program?source=policybot