February 20, 2015

Correcting the Record on the Louisiana Scholarship Program

By Bellwether

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The Times Picayune recently published an article that begins with an assertion that “One third of Louisiana’s voucher students are enrolled at private schools doing such a poor job of educating them that the schools have been barred from taking new voucher students…” One need not read much further to conclude that the author of the article is, at the very least, skeptical of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). Unfortunately, the article also perpetuates some misinformation about the program. While working on this program at the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE), I spent countless hours setting the record straight for confused families and schools and know the importance of making sure accurate information gets to them.
The LSP gives low-income families, whose children previously attended a failing public school, the option to enroll in a participating private school of their choice. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling allowing school vouchers, programs like the LSP stir controversy because they allow families to use public funds to enroll their children in private schools. The controversy often leads to confusion, which hinders families’ abilities to make fully informed decisions. That is why I want to correct three points made in this article that I believe are misleading.

  1. The article focuses on the under-performance of some LSP schools and ignores the bigger problem that most Scholarship students previously attended failing public schoolsOf course, this does not excuse the poor performance of participating private schools, but it does add important perspective to the choices families are confronting. Indeed, the under-performance of Louisiana public schools is driving families toward the LSP.
  1. The article asserts that the LSP is costing taxpayers $42 million; the truth is that the program is saving taxpayers $21.7 million. The average cost to send a student to an under-performing public school is $8,605 per child. The average amount to send a student to a scholarship school is $5,311. In other words, taxpayers save $3,294 for every student who takes a scholarship. If the scholarship program did not exist, taxpayers would have paid $21.7 million more to send children to a failing public school.
  1. While the article focuses on the fact that some LSP schools are doing a poor job, the reality is that the LDE is holding schools accountable. The LDE is following through on its accountability framework. Underperforming schools are not being allowed to enroll any additional scholarship students. These consequences are far greater than any facing underperforming public schools, which tend to operate perpetually even when they are failing. Families should feel reassured that they are participating in a publicly monitored program that is not tolerating underperforming schools.

Like all schools, private schools participating in the LSP have room for improvement and should continually strive to strengthen their academic offerings. The LDE should continue to consistently enforce high accountability standards for scholarship schools, just like it does for charters and traditional public schools. At the same time, high quality scholarship schools should be expanded wherever possible and proven school operators should be recruited to open their doors to participating students. The Scholarship Program is just one contributing member to a broader educational system. If parents are going to be active decision makers in this system, the first step is to provide transparent and clear information.
Dan Fuchs is an intern on Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership Team.

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