Last Modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 1:36 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Details of a new school voucher program in Louisiana soon will be taking shape.
Friday was the deadline for private schools to apply to the state if they want to be able to accept students who take part in the program, which will pay government-funded private school tuition for some Louisiana students. State education officials were compiling information on the applicants Monday. Information on the schools participating and the number of seats available for voucher students in those schools could be released Tuesday.
Meanwhile, families who want their children to take part in the program known as Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence can begin applying on Tuesday.
The program is for students who are from low- to moderate-income families and who attend public schools that earned a C, D or F under the state's school accountability program.
Gov. Bobby Jindal approved the voucher program in the current legislative session. It is a statewide expansion of a program already in effect in New Orleans.
As signed into law by Jindal, the bill applies to students from families with an income of up to 250 percent of the poverty level as determined under federal guidelines. For a family of four, that would be about $57,625 per year. Students from such families would be eligible for the program if they attend schools earning a C, D or F rating.
State officials have estimated that as many as 380,000 students would be eligible for the vouchers, although initial enrollment was expected to be closer to about 2,000, based on other states' experiences with similar program.
The deadline for student applications is June 29.
If the number of voucher applicants exceeds the number of seats available in a specific school and grade level, a lottery will be held.
Backers of the voucher plan say it gives parents of children in failing or low-performing schools new, needed options. Opponents
say they fear the program will drain money away from public schools. Money for the vouchers is to be allocated through the
state Minimum Foundation Program, which is a complex formula for doling out state money to local school districts.''
The Senate on Monday approved a $3.4 billion public school funding formula, which also will help finance the vouchers.
The proposal by Sen. Conrad Appel, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, will keep spending per student flat for a fourth straight year. The only financing increase, about $33 million, comes because new students have been added to the formula.
Only one senator asked a question about the multibillion dollar spending plans for the 2012-13 school year before the Senate voted 26-10 for the formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP.
Lawmakers had few options for dealing with the education spending plans Monday. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education submits the annual school funding formula. Lawmakers can’t rewrite it. If they reject it, BESE revises it.
“We have two choices today: We can vote in favor of the resolution, or we can vote against the resolution. That is it,” said Appel, R-Metairie.
The formula covers state spending for the state’s 70 school districts and for other educational programs. It heads to the House for debate. The formula divvies up dollars to districts based on the number and type of students they have and the individual districts’ wealth. The proposal would keep the per-student cost the same, $3,855.
The legislation includes plans for the state to start a new program, the Early High School Graduation Scholarship, which would give college tuition grants for students who graduate from high school early. It is set to start with the 2013-14 school year.
Local education leaders and unions complained that the formula in recent years hasn’t included the traditional 2.75 percent boost for each public school student. School districts had received the annual increases for years before the state’s budget tightened, and superintendents said they don’t have the money to cover rising health and retirement costs without help.