State planning next year’s voucher program despite rulings

By By Nichole Osinski / American Press

The state Department of Education is still planning next school year’s voucher program despite continued opposition. The state

Supreme Court heard arguments against the program on March 19. A decision has not yet been made.

The department announced an increase of students who have applied for the Louisiana Scholarship Program. State Superintendent

John White said roughly 12,000 students have sought to participate — up from about 10,000 in 2012.

“In spite of all efforts to stop parents from choosing schools they have continued to choose schools for their children,”

he said. “As a state we have to do everything we can to honor that choice.”

A lawsuit against the program had originally been filed by the Louisiana School Boards Association, along with the Louisiana

Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and 44 Louisiana school districts.

In November a state district court judge ruled that using the program to divert funds through the Minimum Foundation Program

to private entities was unconstitutional. It was later appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

White said voucher applicants will be notified about their status by mid-April. According to the Education Department, there

are 129 schools on the students’ application — up from 118 last school year.

There are also five other schools participating but not taking new students. Park Vista Elementary in Opelousas is the only

public school participating in the program. The vouchers allow low-income students in C, D and F public schools to receive

education aid.

“Whether or not the schools were going

to participate was largely dependent upon what the accountability was

going to look

like,” said District 7 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

member Holly Boffy. “Those decisions were made late last

summer.”

Students who were in the program last year and want to continue are automatically allotted into spaces for this coming school

year. White said about 4,800 students are returning and about 7,000 are new applicants.

The vouchers cost about $22 million a

year. White said it costs the state about $8,500 each year for students

to attend public

schools. He said that because a decision has not yet been made by

the court, the department is not making assumptions about

costs.

“We expect ... the Supreme Court will

provide a similar level of guidance as well so that the ruling will be

fairly prescriptive,”

White said.

“Because the rulings themselves basically give you the game from a policy perspective, there’s really no point in speculating

in how you would fund it.”