Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade and has been approved for 135 voucher students — a number that is nearly four times last year’s enrollment. Marie Carrier, the founder of ECA and senior pastor of Eternity Christian Church, said the school’s population totaled 34 students during the 2011-2012 school year. (Karen Wink / American Press)
BeauVer Christian Academy, a kindergarten through 12th grade school located in DeRidder, has been approved for 119 voucher positions, which would more than double the previous year’s enrollment. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, June 11, 2012 10:59 AM
It wasn’t the schools that John White approved for the state voucher program that got him in hot water with the state Legislature.
It was the fact he neither visited nor researched some schools enough before giving them the OK to participate in the program, critics say.
White, the state school superintendent, recently came under legislators’ fire for not investigating the schools participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program closely enough.
The statewide voucher program was passed early in the 2012 legislative session, and in late May, White announced 125 schools from 33 parishes across Louisiana qualified to participate in the high-dollar program. This created around 5,000 slots for students.
However, no site visits were made to the selected schools during the application process. Some lawmakers were angered by news that some schools were awarded vouchers for more students than they may be able to handle.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee recently questioned White during his confirmation hearing about the program. White said the number of slots given to each school was based on initial approval and on a projection of what each school estimated it could handle. The Department of Education had more reviews to do, he said.
Senators also asked specifically about The New Living Word school in Ruston, which had asked for more than 300 slots — a rate that would triple its previous enrollment. The school had neither the physical capacity nor an adequate number of teachers and amount supplies for the increase, as first reported by The News-Star in Monroe.
If The New Living Word School reaches its goal of 315 voucher students, the school would receive almost $2.7 million from the state — a sum that has critics questioning the school’s motives. But White defended the school and his department.
“It doesn’t raise automatic doubts or any assumptions on our part. I have equal concerns about the D-rated schools to which those kids could be enrolled right now,” White said in an Associated Press article.
In light of the questions raised by the hearing, the American Press decided to take a closer look at the four Southwest Louisiana schools that will be participating in the program.
Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade and has been approved for 135 voucher students — nearly four times last year’s enrollment.
The school’s population totaled 34 students during the 2011-2012 school year.
“We hope that we can attract 135 students. If not, we’re going to be prepared for whatever number we get to start off with,” said Marie Carrier, the founder of ECA and senior pastor of Eternity Christian Church.
The school’s current tuition is $9,100 per year; the projected maximum allocation for vouchers in Calcasieu Parish is $8,707.
If ECA reaches its target number of students, it will receive nearly $1.2 million from the state.
The school has eight teachers, but Carrier said she wants to hire more. She said that no matter how many students the school has, she will not allow the class sizes to be larger than 15 students.
ECA follows the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. While students do not take a full religion course, they will be taught 72 Bible verses over the course of the year.
The school works on a merit system and is designed for students to work at their own pace. Students set goals at the beginning of the week and if they meet them, they can go on that week’s field trip.
“It’s a self-motivational type curriculum, and it’s designed where all the students don’t have to be on the same level,” Carrier said. “To expect students to go into a classroom and be on the same level doesn’t work. No child will be left behind this way.”
Carrier said because many of her teachers have worked in the public school system, she does not expect to have any problems preparing voucher students for LEAP testing.
Carrier said she is not sure of the school’s plan for dealing with voucher students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. Currently, all ECA students provide their own lunches.
Next school year, Carrier hopes to improve student access to technology. There currently is one computer in each classroom, and students have to take turns using them to access programs that go along with their lessons.
“Hopefully, every student will have an individual computer next year. With the vouchers we can afford that,” Carrier said.
At ECA, students also take music classes, home economics and physical education in addition to their core subjects.
There are two classrooms permanently set up at the school — not enough to accommodate 135 new students.
Carrier said the school is in the process of turning the church’s fellowship hall into multiple classrooms, but they may run into zoning issues with the city of Westlake.
ECA is also looking into getting temporary buildings. The church owns the land behind the current building and its officials plan to put several temporary buildings there. Carrier is also hoping to add a gym.
“We are waiting for the enrollment cutoff date before gathering a final plan for the marginal buildings,” Carrier said.
BeauVer Christian Academy, a K-12 school in DeRidder, has been approved for 119 voucher positions, which would more than double its enrollment from last year.
BeauVer enrolled around 90 students for the 2011-2012 school year.
School Director Sheral Zeno said they try to keep their class size at about 10 students per class. However, she said that they would be willing to move that to 15 students per class to accommodate the influx of students.
“We want to service the students that need smaller classroom size and individual attention,” Zeno said. “If a parent sees that his child has a social delay, this is the perfect environment for them.”
BeauVer has five teachers, but Zeno said the school is now in the process of hiring.
BeauVer uses the A Beka curriculum, a Christian-based learning system. However, Zeno said she is not worried about the voucher students being prepared for the LEAP tests.
“Through course of study, A Beka students are usually about two years more advanced than their peers,” Zeno said. “It’s a stringent curriculum, but it basically allows students to work at their own pace.”
Zeno said the school follows a “normal classroom structure” similar to a public school.
BeauVer offers JROTC, a keyboarding class, an automotive class, a music class and wood shop as electives. They also have a basketball team and a dance team.
Zeno said lunch is included with tuition. The school’s staff and community volunteers provide home-cooked meals each day. She said she wasn’t sure how they would handle school lunch next year.
The BeauVer campus is made up of a front office building and a collection of temporary buildings that serve as classrooms. It has seven temporary buildings that each house two classrooms. Zeno said she expects to get three or four more temporary buildings before the 2012-2013 school year.
“We will have new buildings in, so we will have larger classroom space. We are actually looking at a second location, as well,” she said.
Zeno said the second location would most likely be near Singer.
The school’s tuition is $350 a month. If the school reaches its target enrollment, it will receive nearly $400,000 from the state.
Zeno said that she hopes to use the money to improve technology in the classroom by adding interactive whiteboards and other
St. Theodore Holy Family Catholic School in Moss Bluff is a prekindergarten through eighth-grade school and is a part of the Diocese of Lake Charles. The school has 115 students registered for the 2012-2013 school year and has been approved to accept 23 vouchers.
“I don’t want any more than 15 in each class, so I looked at the numbers of the students already registered and there were about one to three students per class that we could accept,” said Jennifer Bellon, the principal.
Holy Family’s tuition is about $4,000 per year, and Bellon said it would not increase for the next school year.
Bellon said Holy Family uses the same common-core standards public schools use and the school has the same instruction time per subject as the public schools. Though some of the textbooks are not the same as those used by the Calcasieu Parish School Board, they are all state-approved, so Bellon does not feel that LEAP testing will present a problem for the voucher students.
In addition to core academic subjects, Holy Family students must take a religion class, so the school days are longer than those of a typical school.
Bellon said while she understands that entering the Catholic school system will be an adjustment for many voucher students, she will expect them to live up to the school’s current standards.
“They have to adhere to our handbook just like anybody else, so my expectations for the new students will be my expectations for another child coming in from another Catholic school,” Bellon said. “We all have to read the handbook. We all are accountable. I’ll address the new students’ needs the same way I do other students.”
Holy Family serves lunches to students and already has a free and reduced-fee lunch option in place for students who qualify.
The school offers computer classes, art, music and P.E.
Each sixth- through eighth-grade student is issued a laptop from the school, and all students have access to laptops in the library.
The school is not able offer competitive sports teams for the middle-school students because of its small size.
Bellon said she is excited about the voucher program and believes her school is ready for the new students.
“It (the voucher program) will bring a larger group of students, and I think it will make us more competitive,” Bellon said.
“We are going to have challenges for sure, but we’re up to it.”
Our Lady’s Catholic School in Sulphur, another Diocese of Lake Charles school, will accept 14 voucher students for the 2012-2013 school year. The school serves students in prekindergarten through eighth grades, but it will only accept two vouchers per grade from the second through eighth.
The school enrolled 210 students last year and expects to have around the same number next year. Principal Trevor Donnelly said the average class size is around 18 students.
“It’s the first year of the program, and we wanted to get a feel for the way it would work. It’s been quick moving, and we are going to treat this as a pilot program this year,” Donnelly said. “This provides an opportunity for families who would like to take advantage of a Catholic education, but it wasn’t financially viable in the past.”
The school already has a free and reduced-lunch program in place for those students who qualify, as the voucher students will.
Our Lady’s uses several different curriculums. Each subject follows a different type of textbook. Donnelly said all textbooks are state-approved.
Like Holy Family, the school requires a religion class for every grade.
“Religion is the central component to everything we do,” Donnelly said. “It is all a part of our character education. We incorporate our faith in all of our teachings.”
Our Lady’s offers electives such as computer studies, music, art, P.E. and library science.
They also offer several athletic teams. Beginning in the fifth grade, students can join the basketball team and there are volleyball, football and track teams for middle school students. Our Lady’s also has a cheerleading squad.
The school competes in the Calcasieu Catholic Athletic League.
“We offer traditional faith-based education that’s very personalized, primarily because of our size,” Donnelly said. “Our students receive a lot of individual attention. We have an excellent staff with a lot of experience that do a great job with our kids.”
Donnelly said all of Our Lady’s teachers are state-certified.
“Our school community is embracing the opportunity that this is providing to our families,” Donnelly said. “It’s something we look forward to.”
Applications for enrollment in the voucher program are due by June 29.