Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Public School District Opts In, then Opts Out of Expanded Louisiana Voucher Program

Just as week ago, School Choice Now! told the inspiring story of a public school district thatdecided to open its doors to help students from low-income families attending failing schools by participating in the newly-expanded Students Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. 

But today, The Advocate today reported that the school district no longer plans to participate in the program. 

On April 26, the School Board voted to accept 30 voucher students entering kindergarten and first grade.  It wouldn't have been the first time the Zachary School District had done something like this -- they have a history of supporting students from around the state.  After Hurricane Katrina, the school district opened its doors to 300 students displaced by the aftermath of the storm.  This was a profound move on behalf of the district, considering that Zachary is the state’s top-performing school district for seven years and is the only A-rated district in the state.

“When it’s all said and done, it will cost more money, but we thought, after the example we had set with (Hurricane) Katrina with adding 300 kids and not losing the quality of education, that we could lend a hand, even to a small degree,” Zachary Superintendent Warren Drake said. “But, the bottom line is we work for the people of Zachary, and they were concerned about the cost.”

But the costs to participate in the voucher program are low.  The arrangement would have added only one student in each kindergarten and first-grade class.

Governor Jindal last month approved a statewide expansion of the Students Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.  Under the expansion, students from families with incomes at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty rate and who attend schools rated “C,” “D,” of “F” could use a voucher to attend the public or private school of their choice.

Originally enacted in 2008 for students living in Orleans Parish, the program has broad support from Democrats and Republicans and boasts high parental satisfaction rates.  In the 2011-12 school year, the program served 1,848 students.

We’re sad to see such a top-performing public school district opt out of the program, but look forward to seeing more great schools—both public and private—sign up to give a helping hand to students across the Bayou State.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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