Last Modified: Friday, June 01, 2012 6:56 PM
A news report about a north Louisiana private school and subsequent testimony about it by Louisiana’s state superintendent of schools has raised red flags about the state’s new voucher system.
The newly launched program, pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and embraced the state Legislature this session, will provide up to $3,000 in voucher funds for a student to move from a low-performing public school to a private school.
Jindal said the plan would give parents more options to remove their children from the low-performing schools and provide needed competition for public schools.
His administration actually has the nerve to call it a scholarship program. That’s a euphemism. Scholarships — academic, athletic, music — indicate educational funding that has been earned. There’s nothing that the students have done to earn the state money other than application and attending low-performing public school. That makes it a voucher, plain and simple.
Now that same mindset appears to by applying to private schools.
Take New Living Word School, a private school that just finished its third year in operation in Ruston as an example. Last year, the private school had 122 students. Earlier this month, it was granted permission by the state for an additional 315 students, a nearly 260 percent jump in enrollment.
The school’s principal, Jerry Baldwin, doubles as the pastor at Living Word Church. He admitted to the Monroe News Star newspaper that heretofore classes have been held in the church’s Sunday school classes. Plans call for constructing a 16,000-square-foot building for additional classroom space, but he said the building may not be ready for the opening of school.
Baldwin, the former head football coach at USL, now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said the school does not have computers and has not hired teachers yet for the expected spike in enrollment. He said students in classes last year were given primary instruction by watching a DVD, which he called a “technology teacher.” Baldwin said DVD instruction accounts for about 20-30 minutes per class, and that a classroom teacher is on hand to manage the class, review homework, answer questions and give assignments.
Realize this: Baldwin nor the school has done anything wrong. They’re playing by the rules. And what a loose set of rules they appear to be.
Department of Education spokeswoman Rene Greer told the newspaper that state education department officials visit a nonpublic school before it begins operating. But there have been no subsequent visits.
How did New Living Word School get permission to add as many as 315 voucher students?
Over the phone. Some high standard the state has set, right?
In its rush to get the voucher program under way, Jindal and state Superintendent of Education John White appear to have completely ignored any standards.
It’s a fact that’s not lost on state lawmakers.
‘‘How did your department approve 315 slots and (students) don’t have a place to sit?’’ state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, asked White last week.
State Sen. Bob Kostela, R-Monroe, said most of the teachers at the school are family members of Baldwin.’
When grilled if he had ever talked with Baldwin, White said he had read his biographical information.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, said he was alarmed that New Living Word planned to charge $8,500 in tuition for the coming year.
‘‘It seems,’’ he said, ‘‘ they are doing this just for vouchers.’’
White promised to do due diligence, saying he planned to call Lincoln Parish School Superintendent Danny Bell.
Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?
If this is an example of how the voucher system is going to be administered in Louisiana, then public school administrators’
complaints about it aren’t just sour grapes, they’re valid concerns. This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,
Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.