The state's top school board Tuesday adopted revisions to its process for approving private and parochial schools. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will now accept accreditation from independent agencies as proof a school meets state standards.
Approval is the trigger for a school to be eligible for public money. It's also one of the criteria for schools enrolling students through the statewide voucher program. The old approval process had drawn scrutiny as critics questioned the quality of some voucher schools.
Peter Barnes, headmaster of Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, said accreditation by agencies like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is more rigorous. Christian Life Academy just completed what he Barnes described as a thorough, 18-month review by SACS.
"We have never in 10 years had a site visit by the state. We have never been audited by the state. ... However, during that same 10 year period, I have hosted two SACS reviews," Barnes told the board.
Christian Life Academy is not participating in the voucher program, but Lee Meyer, an Assumption Parish School Board member, worried the automatic state approval of accredited schools will mean more public school dollars will go to private and parochial schools through vouchers.
"The more you accredit, the more people we're going to put in the scholarship programs, ... the more money you're going to take from the district," Meyer said.
Lottie Beebe of Breaux Bridge and Carolyn Hill of Baton Rouge voted against the changes to the nonpublic school approval process. They had also been the only BESE members to oppose the voucher program.