State Superintendent John White. (Donna Price / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 1:23 PM
The state Department of Education released the first round of criteria for participating voucher schools Wednesday, after facing scrutiny of the program from across the state.
Four schools in Southwest Louisiana have been accepted into the voucher program: Eternity Christian Academy, BeauVer Christian Academy, Our Lady’s Catholic School and St. Theodore Holy Family Catholic School.
The newly released criteria may have a major effect on some area schools.
The American Press reported in late June that BeauVer Christian Academy has failed to pass state fire inspections since June 2011.
Records showed that after inspection in June 2011, the school was not approved for occupancy in five of its temporary buildings, which serve as classrooms for the school.
The school was asked to cease occupancy in January 2012 due to safety issues and fire code violations.
A section of the new criteria focuses solely on “Health, Safety and Welfare of Students.” It says participating schools “shall be in compliance with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to the health, safety, and welfare of students for public or nonpublic schools, as applicable.”
State Superintendent John White said no grace periods will be granted for schools to get their facilities up to code. As of June 22, BeauVer still had not passed inspection.
The state fire marshal's office confirmed today that the late June inspection was the last inspection done on the property.
“They need to meet these standards today. These are standards about following the law and about the safety, health and welfare of children,” White said. “It needs to be complied with today.”
The criterion related to safety also says schools can’t employ or place in authority over children anyone who’s been convicted of or who has pleaded no contest to a violent or sex crime.
It gives the state superintendent the right to “immediately declare a school ineligible to participate if the school’s continued
participation endangers the academic welfare, health, or safety of children.”
The new rules require schools to indicate the number of students they are able and willing to take. The department said schools should try to keep the increase in their enrollment to 125 percent of the previous year’s enrollment or to 50 students more than the previous year, whichever is larger.
This would test Eternity Christian Academy, whose leaders said they could have 135 voucher spots — a nearly 400 percent increase from their previous enrollment of 34 students.
But White said the enrollment specifications are a “guideline and a guideline only.”
“If the school exceeds that number, we have to see if they have the capacity and the parent demand to serve that exceeding
number,” he said.
Regarding the use of funds, the criterion says voucher money may only go toward “educational purposes.” Tuition and fees for voucher students must not exceed those charged to students not participating in the program.
It also says the state would require an annual audit of all scholarship schools.
“It is likely that a small number of schools will not qualify any longer in light of these rules; however, those investigations of schools are still ongoing, and we’re not able to give out that information at this time regarding the names of those schools,” White said. “It is likely that a small number of these schools will not be participating in the program.”
White said the state would release a follow-up accountability system to go along with the criteria before Aug. 1.
The Education Department also announced Wednesday that more than 10,300 students statewide applied for the voucher program — a figure much higher than expected.
White said officials originally expected 2,000 to 3,000 students to apply.
Students who applied for the program will be mailed an offer of a school assignment the week of July 23. Not all students who applied will be accepted due to a lack of available seats.
For more information on the criteria for participation and about how the criteria will impact the four area school accepting voucher, check back at www.americanpress.com or pick up your copy of the print edition of the American Press.
Posted By: Vicky On: 7/11/2012
Well......the DOE sure didn't update their website. Questionable schools are still there. Wonder when they will release the criteria. How many "rounds" are there going to be?