State may skip private school certification rule

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Under Louisiana’s Constitution, any nonpublic school getting state money must be certified as providing a curriculum or specialized course of study at least equal to those required for similar public schools.

But it’s questionable whether that requirement is being met for the 377 schools in the state voucher program, The News-Star reports.

Currently, 377 nonpublic schools have state approval, which gives their diplomas the same weight as the state’s, makes them eligible for school textbook money, and lets students ride on public school buses and get state-paid college scholarships through the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

Under the Constitution and a court ruling, their certification must come from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“We don’t look at the quality of the curriculum,” said James Garvey of Metairie, who co-chairs the board’s School Innovation and Turnaround Committee.

“We don’t look at what they teach,” he said. “We look at the system. We look at policies and procedures, not what they teach. It’s how they teach and not what they teach.”

A public records request to view curricula submitted by nonpublic schools found that neither BESE nor the Department of Education requires them to submit copies of their curricula or copies of the books they use.

Although the constitution and case law say BESE decides whether a nonpublic school’s curriculum is equal to those in public schools, BESE has given that job to the education department, said Superintendent of Education John White.

BESE has approved his proposal for a new method that will go into effect next month.

Nonpublic schools accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or the National Association of Independent Schools get five-year approval with annual review.

Those accredited by a different agency would be subject to review using a questionnaire based on SACS and NAIS standards.

BESE member Lottie Beebe of Breaux Bridge said White’s new standards for assessing nonpublic schools sound good but are flawed because he can waive any provision and let schools qualify even if they don’t meet standards.

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