5,100 new school voucher slots available
By: Staff and Wire Reports
One school in St. Mary Parish will accept voucher students this fall.
Central Catholic High School in Morgan City has reported to the state 34 openings between grades 7 and 11.
The openings at CCHS versus the possible students per grade in C, D or F schools in St. Mary public schools are:
—7th, 9 versus 516
—8th, 6 versus 507
—9th, 9 versus 614
—10th, 5 versus 507
—11th, 5 versus 502
CCHS is the only school to accept voucher students. The public schools ranked B already announced they would not be accepting voucher students. The parish has no A schools.
Overall, more than 5,000 Louisiana students in 33 parishes can get new taxpayer-funded voucher slots at private schools this fall, under a law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that created a statewide voucher program.
The state education department Tuesday unveiled the list of private and parochial schools that have been approved to participate in the voucher program expansion approved by lawmakers in April.
The final assignments and number of students who will take the seats for the 2012-13 school year will be set by the end of July.
Superintendent of Education John White said he was pleased with the level of immediate start-up interest by schools, which he said was greater than similar programs in other states. He said he expected the number of voucher slots and participating schools to grow in later years.
“This is a promising start to a program that will provide thousands of opportunities for families,” White said.
Houma-Thibodaux Diocese Catholic schools Superintendent Marian Fertitta echoed that sentiment.
While Holy Cross Elementary is not participating this year, she did not close the door on future years.
It’s a school-by-school decision made by the pastor, advisory council and principal, she said.
At Holy Cross, “we decided we needed more thought, time and prayer for this year,” Fertitta said.
Applications will be taken over six weeks for the newly-created 5,100 seats at private and parochial schools, most of which are in Louisiana’s urban areas. Larger numbers of voucher seats are available in south Louisiana. White didn’t expect all of the available voucher seats to be used.
Those slots come on top of 2,300 voucher seats that were already available to New Orleans students in the existing Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence program that had previously been limited to that city.
“We’re thrilled to be able to offer options to children in all corners of the state,” White said. He added, “All children should have the right to choose with their families what is best for them.”
But the schools are largely in urban and suburban parishes in southeast Louisiana. Of the 125 participating schools, fewer than a dozen offering seats to voucher students are in central or north Louisiana. Forty of the schools are in New Orleans, and another 16 are in Baton Rouge, comprising nearly half the participating schools.
Taxpayer-funded seats at private and parochial schools are available to students who are from low- to moderate-income families and who attend public schools rated with a C, D or F under the state’s school accountability program.
Priority is given to students in D and F schools.
Parents also can apply for students who will be entering kindergarten in the fall if they meet the income requirements, which limit the program to 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.
Supporters of the voucher plan say it gives parents of children in low-performing schools more options for a strong education. Opponents say voucher programs drain money away from public schools, leaving fewer resources to educate their students.
Critics of the program expansion are planning to file a lawsuit challenging the use of the public school funding formula to finance the vouchers.
Thirty-two parishes besides Orleans Parish will participate in the expanded program. Parents must submit completed applications by June 29 to the private school they’d like their child to attend. If more students apply than there are available seats, voucher slots will be allotted through a lottery.
Only a small slice of the schools are offering seats to high school students. Fewer than 12 percent of the new voucher program slots are for high-schoolers, according to a data from the education department.
A high-performing public elementary school in St. Landry Parish also is offering 42 seats to students from low-performing schools in their area, as part of the new voucher program. No other public schools sought to participate this fall.
A second voucher program recently signed into law by Jindal won’t start until the 2013-14 school year. That program will give out tax breaks for donations to voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools.
The law provides a nearly dollar-for-dollar state tax rebate to people and businesses donating money to nonprofit organizations that give the private school scholarships to students.
Applications are being accepted now and must be received no later than June 29, at any participating school in the program. For more information on the program, visit http://www.doe.state.la.us/ and select Louisiana Scholarship Program.