State Supt. Aims for Vouchers, With or Without School Funding Formula

Feb 28, 2013

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is slated to approve the school funding formula next week. The new proposal, released Thursday, still pays for the voucher program with dollars that would otherwise go to local districts. But, state Supt. John White is pitching alternative financing that would skirt the formula.

With a final court ruling on the constitutionality of the existing scheme for funding vouchers still pending, districts are grappling with how to budget for next year and parents are anxious that their kids will be yanked out of private schools.

“There could well be a better way to do it than to wait for the court to resolve the issue at all," White said Thursday.

White's idea is to send all the money to districts and get them to pay the private school tuition for students opting into the voucher program. On average, that tuition is about $3500 cheaper per student than the cost of public school as calculated by the state. The districts would get to keep the savings. This year, the state has kept it to the tune of $13 million.

“We’re acknowledging that a good solution might be for the locals to save that money as opposed to the state. That seems like a good thing to me, provided we’re honoring parents’ choices," White said.

White has floated the idea with the Louisiana school boards association. Executive Director Scott Richard doesn’t think it’s going to fly because school boards are obligated to pursue and keep all the funds destined for the support of the public schools.   

“To simply say, ok, we’re going to entertain another scheme or another concoction of circumstances for the sake of these programs and, you know, to sidestep the constitution would definitely be negligent on our part," Richard said.

Supt. White isn’t reworking the funding formula to keep alive a program to allow public school dollars to be used for college tuition for students who graduate from high school early.

In the same decision that struck the existing scheme for funding vouchers, Judge Tim Kelley ruled that the formula could not be used to pay for post-secondary education.

“The court ruling effectively struck it down and it doesn’t have the legal backing to keep it in pending an appeal,"White said, because, unlike the voucher program, the early graduation program only existed in the formula; it has not yet been enacted in statute.