The First Bell series is a growing collection of stories from students, parents, and educators about pivotal experiences in education. To tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.
LaToya Johnson is the mother of three boys.
Early on, in daycare and preschool, Johnson's older two learned their ABCs and how to write.
"So by the time I got to my youngest and he got to pre-k and he wasn’t able to recognize his alphabet, I was like, ok, something was wrong."
That turned out to be the start of a journey that ultimately led Johnson to enroll her son Micah in a private school — Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge — through the state voucher program.
The Justice Department is worried that Louisiana's private school voucher program may be undermining efforts to overcome the historic segregation of public schools, and last month asked a federal court to stop the state from awarding any more vouchers until it's shown the program isn't undoing progress.
The Justice Department is suing Louisiana for issuing school vouchers to students in districts under desegregation orders. The federal government says the system is undermining racial balances in public schools.
Louisiana lawmakers went out of their way to add a $46 million line item to the state budget to allow more students from under-performing public schools go to private school through the voucher program championed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Both Wisconsin and Ohio have just pushed through major expansions of their voucher programs too. And both states -- like Louisiana -- are headed by Republican governors.
Sarah Carr, a writer for the Hechinger Report, says these governors are being strategic in their support of vouchers.
"It’s a way for them to make a name for themselves pursuing an education agenda that’s typically been embraced by conservatives and trying even to some extent to one-up each other in creating a bigger and bolder voucher program."
State Superintendent John White wants to scrape the Department of Education's administrative budget to pay for public school students to take individual courses from private providers.
The Course Choice program had been included in the formula that supports public schools. But the same state Supreme Court ruling that shuttled the planned financing for vouchers, said those funds couldn't go to the new classes either.
Earlier this month, Louisiana's Supreme Court ruled that the way the state's private school voucher program was paid for was unconstitutional. It can't be paid for through the Minimum Foundation Formula, or MFP -- the pool of money that supports public education.
Rep. Kirk Talbot, a Republican from New Orleans who voted in favor of the education overhaul Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed hard for last year, says the missteps in the funding of the voucher program gave some in the legislature, " a little bit of heartburn."
Louisiana’s Supreme Court has ruled that money reserved for public schools can’t be used to pay for private school tuition under the state constitution.
The 6-1 decision, handed down Tuesday, undermines the school voucher program that was a keystone of the education overhaul pushed through the legislature by Gov. Jindal last year.
In a written statement following the ruling, Jindal said the program is, “alive and well.” Nearly 5,000 students are enrolled at private schools through the voucher program. Roughly 8,000 students have been offered vouchers for next year.
The state Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case against the statewide school voucher program.
At issue is whether private school tuition can be paid for with the funds that would otherwise go to struggling public schools.
At Hosanna Christian Academy, the tuition is being used in the battle to bring voucher students up to grade level. Hosanna's intervention strategies were inspired by the turnaround efforts at public Winbourne Elementary.