The Voucher Program in Louisiana
The Voucher Program
When I was a child, I thought that when I grew up I would just send my kids to school each morning and then go to work. Easy peasy! Now that I’m a mom with children of my own, I know what a stressful, frustrating situation choosing a school can be!
We have so many school options in our area: public, private, parochial, charter, online, and residential! While paid schooling was once reserved for those families who could pay all of the tuition up-front, in cash, the voucher system is opening up more possibilities for more families.
WHAT are vouchers?
The term “vouchers” refers to the Louisiana State Scholarship Program. Started in New Orleans in 2008, the program assists thousands of students statewide by paying for non-public school tuition.
WHY do we have vouchers?
The Louisiana State Scholarship Program, or voucher system, was started to give families school choice. Families whose children attend a failing school can apply for a scholarship. Research indicates that students in the program are growing academically faster than the state average. The percentage of Louisiana students graduating high school and earning an 18 or better on the ACT has more than doubled in the last three years. School principal, Linda Stone, praised the program for allowing students who may otherwise not have an opportunity to attend a private school to have that chance. “It levels the field,” she said.
HOW does your child get a voucher?
Students are awarded vouchers through an application and lottery process. Eligibility requirements include being a Louisiana resident, having a household income that does not exceed 250% of the federal poverty line, and either entering kindergarten or currently enrolled in a school with a C, D, or F rating.
What are the PROs and CONs of vouchers?
The pros of having a voucher include: choice of schools that may better meet the student’s needs; once accepted to the program, students can request transfer to another participating school; and access to schools that may emphasize the student’s interests.
The cons of the program include: a student may not be matched with a voucher through the lottery; there is increased burden on the schools accepting children on a voucher through additional paperwork and compliance issues with testing; the tuition provided through the program may not be the same as the tuition the school charges, creating a budgetary gap for schools.
There are other limitations to vouchers as well. Last school year, over 10,000 students applied for the scholarship program. Approximately 7,000 students were awarded the vouchers and nearly 120 schools participated. Although there is a chance that your student may not be awarded a voucher, Stone suggests, “It's worth doing the application. Be persistent if your child doesn’t get in the first time. Mention that there are other siblings, to try to keep siblings together. Families should also keep in mind the transfer procedure. If you match and you accept any school you are matched to, you can ask for a transfer within the program later.” When I asked Stone students would lose the scholarship after a year, she replied, “Students remain eligible without having to reapply as long as their household remains within eligibility parameters.”
Finally, schools may face sanctions if there is a high turnover. In a report from July 2018, turnover for voucher students was 16.5%. The voucher policy states that schools who have a turnover rate of 33% for two years in a row will be prohibited from accepting new voucher students the following year. The idea is that, if the turnover rate is that high, something may be wrong.
SPECIAL EDUCATION and vouchers
There is a unique collection of pros and cons for students with special needs and schools. Participating schools do not have to provide special education services. Parents may even be asked to sign a waiver relinquishing special education services. But Stone’s school, Hope Academy, has a reputation for meeting the needs of unique learners. She praises the voucher program for providing Hope’s brand of differentiated instruction to students who would otherwise not be able to attend for financial reasons.
However, she does point out that if a school chooses to participate in the voucher system, they must accept the students who match to the voucher. In theory, this is wonderful, but as Stone pointed out, this could lead to a student being matched with a school that does not have the resources to fully meet the student’s needs.
WHEN is the application process?
Applications are accepted during the school year prior to the year that the student can use the scholarship. For students in the Baton Rouge area, the application process opens January 2019 and closes in February for the 2019-2020 school year.
WHO to contact for additional information?
For additional information about the Louisiana Scholarship Program, and other assistance programs, you can contact studentscholarships@LA.gov, or visit the website http://www.louisianabelieves.com/schools/louisiana-scholarship-program.
Published in Baton Rouge Parents Magazine.