White reworking state's private school review process

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Superintendent of

Education John White proposed a revamp Friday of how the state judges

whether private

and parochial schools should be eligible for public funding, a

process drawing new attention with Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide

voucher program.

White unveiled the framework that he will

present to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next

week for approval,

which would put the survey online, rework the questions and give

automatic approval to those schools that achieve national

accreditation standards.

The superintendent said he's trying to move from an outdated assessment model that considers items like library plans and

the length of individual classes to a model centered on "best practices in teaching and learning."

He didn't, however, outline the reworked questionnaires Friday. He said if BESE agrees to the framework that separates schools

into three categories for judging them, he'll return a month later with the detailed survey that will be used to evaluate

private and parochial schools.

Nonpublic schools aren't required to get

approved by the state, but they need to meet state standards if they

want to use

parish public school buses, receive state aid for student

textbooks and maintain eligibility for other publicly funded programs.

Students who graduate from private schools that meet the state criteria are able to receive free college tuition from the

state's TOPS program.

BESE decides whether a school is approved.

The schools also must be approved by the state to participate in the new statewide voucher program that uses tax dollars to

send students to private and parochial schools, though they have to meet other accountability hurdles to become a voucher

school.

Private and parochial schools that are

approved for public funding must show that they meet a curriculum and

standards considered

at least equal to those used in public schools.

"This is not a declaration around student

achievement," White said. "This is about are there a set of equivalent

quality practices

that schools are following?"

Since the expansion of the voucher program, questions have been raised about whether the state review process is rigorous

enough.

Under White's plan:

• Schools that have received accreditation through certain national accrediting organizations would be declared eligible for

public funding for a 5-year-period if they maintain that accreditation. "These reviews are so rigorous as to significantly

exceed what we were doing," White said.

Schools with accreditation with alternate accrediting agencies can submit that documentation as evidence for their eligibility

with the state for public funds. The Department of Education would follow up with any requests for additional information

required.

Schools without accreditation would respond to an online survey that will be reviewed for determination if they are eligible

for public funding.

White said the changes would help cut down on unnecessary and duplicative paperwork for schools that already go through other

review processes.

Currently, 376 nonpublic schools are confirmed eligible by the state for public funding, and 359 of those receive it, White

said. Of those BESE-approved private schools, 117 are in the voucher program.