Unexpected Surge in Louisiana Voucher Applicants

Published July 25, 2012

More than 10,000 students applied to attend private schools this fall under Louisiana’s statewide voucher program, five times more than State Superintendent John White anticipated.

“It comes as no surprise so many families are seeking out better alternatives for their children,” said Kevin Kane, president of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. “If anything, I would expect this number to grow as more people hear about the program and its benefits.”

In April, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law Act 2, expanding New Orleans vouchers statewide. Under the expansion, low-income students attending Louisiana public schools rated C, D, or F by the Louisiana Department of Education may apply for scholarships to  125 participating private schools. In these schools, tuition averages $6,100. Louisiana spends an average of $10,600 for each public-schooled child.

The Louisiana Department of Education is working to ensure public confidence in the program by devising rigorous criteria for participating private schools, said Barry Landry, a DOE spokesman. The criteria, released in July, specify voucher students old enough for state tests must take them (grades 3 and up). The averaged results for each school will be publicly posted, and if a private school’s voucher students repeatedly fail to meet state standards the school will not be allowed to enroll more. If that persists for four years, the school cannot accept voucher students until it demonstrates improved academics.

Vested Interests Scream ‘Stop’
Two teachers unions—the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators—and the Louisiana School Boards Association filed separate but consolidated lawsuits against the program, claiming allowing parents to spend public dollars at private schools is unconstitutional.

Two New Orleans parents, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the Alliance for School Choice responded by joining the defense, represented by the Institute for Justice, which has successfully defended school choice nationwide for decades.

“Louisiana’s program has the potential to be the second largest scholarship program in the United States, second only to Indiana’s statewide program,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dick Komer. “It is IJ’s mission to see that it isn’t killed.”

A hearing on the suit is set for October 15. In early July a Baton Rouge judge rejected a motion to delay the program on grounds the state’s funding for it did not get the constitutionally required number of votes in the House.

“It’s time to return our focus to the classroom and to our children. This decision will help our state to do that,” Landry said. “The number of Louisiana families that have applied for scholarships makes implementing this program an issue of moral responsibility.

Komer is optimistic the voucher program will continue even if ruled unconstitutional.

“Legal challenges are limited to procedural and funding issues,” he said, “such that an adverse decision could be remedied by legislative action quickly, perhaps even without any interruption to the program.”


Image by Gates Foundation.