vouchers

If there was a theme to “Budget Day” in the Louisiana House, it could be summed up by Thursday’s oft-heard refrain, “If we don’t do it, the Senate’s going to do it.”

There wasn’t a lot House members could do to alter the allocations, until they got to the Department of Education section. Because House Appropriations had forwarded the budget bill, HB 1, to the full House before the Senate Education Committee rejected the MFP, House members now had $70-million to play with.

Beverly Ortego, an interventionist at Hosanna Christian Academy, with a reading student.
Sue Lincoln

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 amy@wrkf.org with "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.

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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.

Baton Rouge Democrat Rep. Ted James (left) and New Orleans Republican Rep. Kirk Talbot have both proposed bills this session moderating the education overhaul of 2012.
Amy Jeffries / WRKF

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."

The State Supreme Court has ruled that the state can't pay private school tuition through the same funding channel as it uses to support public schools.

Now, Gov. Bobby Jindal is going to have to find another way to keep the voucher program going.

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.

Louisiana's state Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case challenging the statewide school voucher program.

The justices' questions focused on whether the state constitution allows vouchers for private school tuition to be paid for through the MFP -- the formula used to calculate support for public schools.

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