Editorial: Mounting problems erode public confidence in voucher program

Whatever high ground Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration captured in getting approval of a voucher system to help some students

escape low-performing public schools is being lost by the ham-handed way it is being implemented.

On Monday, a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education committee approved some guidelines for the program. The full board

gave its blessing yesterday in what can easily be described as the horse following the cart.

While the approved guidelines deal with

registration, student enrollment and school eligibility, state

Superintendent of Education

John White admits criteria for judging participating schools is

still a work in progress.

That and transparency must be part of the equation; otherwise there will be little or no public confidence in the voucher

system.

The issue for vouchers for students from low-income families to move from poor performing public schools to private schools

has always been how they would be implemented. Vouchers may work in theory, but they’re not the panacea for all that ails

public school education for a multitude of reasons.

Few established, highly successful private schools have indicated they will participate. And those private schools that said

they will participate in the program this fall offer spaces for less than 2 percent of the eligible students in Louisiana.

In the meantime, suitability of some private schools has been questioned.

A private school in Ruston, New Living Word School, received preliminary approval by the state Education Department to accept

315 voucher students this fall. That would nearly triple last year’s enrollment, even though the school currently does not

have adequate classroom space for the additional students.

Here in Calcasieu Parish, Eternity Christian Academy, which received preliminary approval to handle 135 voucher students,

has operated in Westlake for the past two years without a required city occupational license.

And BeauVer Christian Academy in

Beauregard Parish operated during the 2011-12 school year while

violating safety and fire

code violations and ignoring official requests by the state Fire

Marshal’s Office to cease and desist occupancy. BeauVer was

preliminarily approved for 119 vouchers.

All of these private schools have been put in a Catch 22. They won’t find out for another two weeks the number of voucher

students they’ve been approved to enroll. In the meantime, schools can’t totally prepare, i.e., build classroom buildings

or order temporary ones, sign teachers to contracts or make final arrangements to feed students. And the clock is ticking

toward on the opening of the 2012-13 school year in august.

While the quality of education at Eternity Christian and BeauVer remains unknown, their administrations’ ability to follow

standard rules can be questioned. This, in turn, challenges the state’s desire and ability to maintain oversight.

Public school administrators and

teachers have complained that private schools don’t have to play by the

same rules as public

schools. Examples like Eternity Christian and BeauVer bolster that

argument and erode public confidence in the voucher program.

The program not only needs transparency to determine how well these private schools are educating their students, but also

assurances from the Education Department of the schools’ overall suitability.

The governor argues that families can make that decision.

But when taxpayers’ money is going to fund vouchers, it’s not just about family approval, it’s about whether taxpayer money

is being spent wisely.

Until there is a mechanism in place to determine that, the jury will remain out on the entire voucher program.

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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.