Many Louisiana voucher students at failing schools
State Education Superintendent John White
BATON ROUGE (AP) — New data indicates that many students in Louisiana’s voucher program attended schools that were rated “D” or “F” on the state’s grading scale. At least 45 percent of the nearly 5,000 students in the program last year attended such schools, a new report indicates.
The full impact cannot be assessed because the state released scores only for one-fifth of the 118 voucher schools. Those were schools with at least 40 voucher students in the third grade and up. They served about 2,900 of the nearly 5,000 students in the program last year.
The 22 rated schools were those with the largest numbers of voucher students: 2,888 of the 4,967 in the program last year. Only four of those schools got a C or better. Schools rated F had 1,700 students on vouchers. D-rated schools taught 553.
The program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, lets low-income students attend private schools at public expense if they attend or are entering kindergarten at a public school rated C or worse. Vouchers began as a New Orleans pilot in 2008 and expanded statewide in fall 2012.
The state tests only voucher students at private schools, so the grades reflect only their scores. The calculations are nearly identical to those used for public schools. On the state’s 150-point scoring system, anything lower than a 50 is an F.
Of the 22 schools for which the state released scores, 13 were in the F range, including seven in New Orleans, three in Baton Rouge and one in Kenner. There were five Ds, three Cs and one B.
The poor scores weren’t entirely a surprise. Voucher students scored almost 30 points below the state average on spring LEAP and iLEAP standardized tests. In 2011, when the program was still limited to New Orleans, voucher students scored almost 40 percentage points below the state average and 10 points below the Recovery School District, according to Educate Now.
Despite coming from failing schools, students in the program are making gains, Kyle Plotkin, spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal, wrote in an email Sunday. Between 2008 and 2013, the percentage of students who are proficient in third-grade English Language Arts has grown by 20 percentage points and in math by 28 percentage points, Plotkin wrote.
State Education Superintendent John White said the small number of scores released is a matter of student age, statistical limitations and federal privacy law. After five years, administrators anticipate nearly 90 percent of voucher students will be in schools that are scored, White said.
In the meantime, he said there were other ways to ensure that only good schools stay in the voucher program. A clause in the law lets the department pull schools based on “academic incompetence.” The department blocked seven schools in Jefferson and Orleans parishes from accepting new students this fall based on spring test results.
“We can shut those schools down,” White said, and “we’ve demonstrated that we’re willing to use that discretion.”