Voucher Student Performance Better, But Still Lags

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Performance is improving a bit for Louisiana students attending private Louisiana schools at taxpayer expense, but only about 44 percent of those students have reached a "basic" achievement level and 23 of the 125 participating private schools performed too poorly to continue enrolling new voucher students next year.

         The state Department of Education released the latest report on the voucher program — formally known as the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program — on Monday. The 44 percent scoring "basic" or better on standardized tests for the 2013-14 academic year was an improvement of more than 2 percentage points over the previous year. But it was well behind the statewide figure of 69 percent.

         The voucher program allows students from low- to moderate-income families to apply for government-paid tuition at approved private schools if they would otherwise be assigned to a poorly performing public school — one earning a C, D or an F in the state performance rankings.

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         More than 6,700 students were enrolled in the voucher program last year.

         The statewide program was pushed through the Legislature in 2012 by Gov. Bobby Jindal as part of a wide-ranging public education overhaul. Supporters say vouchers give students from families of lesser means a way to escape poor public schools; opponents say money used should go to public schools.

         The department stressed that voucher students take the same tests for evaluation purposes as those in public schools. And schools with significant numbers of voucher students are graded, based on the performance of the publicly funded students, in ways similar to the way all public schools are graded.

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         Twenty-eight schools now have enough voucher students enrolled in various grades to earn a "Scholarship Cohort Index" score similar to a public school's "School Performance Score." Fifteen of those had SCI scores too low to allow them to accept new voucher students next year.

         Also, eight schools with smaller voucher enrollments will not be allowed to enroll new voucher students next year, based on results of student proficiency tests.

         Of the 23 schools that will not be able to enroll new voucher students, three are slated to close, state officials said.

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         The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an opponent of the voucher program, said Monday's release "calls into question the validity of the state's experiment with privatized education." The teacher union's statement emphasized the small number of schools subject to the SCI score and said student achievement in voucher schools is "vaguely reported."

         Jindal's office lauded the uptick in scores. "These numbers show that children in the Scholarship Program continue to improve in the classroom," Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates said in an emailed statement. Voucher proponents also pointed to an April direct mail survey for the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children in which 92 percent of 1,779 responding parents said they were happy with their child's school.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill


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