Louisiana voucher law rated C by pro-school choice group

Louisiana’s controversial school voucher law got a C rating from a pro-school choice group called the Center for Education Reform, according to a report issued on Wednesday.

Vouchers allow some students who attend public schools rated C, D and F, and who meet income rules, to attend private schools with the tuition and some fees paid by the state.

A total of 6,775 students did so during the 2013-14 school year, and 8,800 vouchers have been awarded to students for the current school year, according to the state Department of Education.

The group that did the rating says its mission is to “accelerate the growth of the education reform movement” to give families more choices.

Indiana got the top ranking, and the organization praised that state’s law for making vouchers available to all students.

Louisiana was given 23 out of a possible 50 points.

“Our program is working and it has grown by thousands of students since it went statewide. The results speak for themselves,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said in news release late Tuesday. “The number of failing schools in our state has been cut in half, and the high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high.”

However, the state was faulted for having “significant regulatory intrusion on private school autonomy,” which hurt its grade.

The group criticized the requirement that voucher students take the same assessments as public school students.

That rule was added to Louisiana’s law amid arguments that taxpayers were entitled to see how state-funded voucher students were faring on key assessments.

In a report issued in May, state officials said 69 percent of students scored at grade level or above on the LEAP and iLEAP exams while just 45 percent of voucher students did so.

A spokesman for the state Department of Education said at the time that, in 2010, only 30 percent of voucher students scored at grade level on the two tests.

Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, disputed criticism in the report that said Louisiana prohibits new private schools from qualifying for voucher students.

Landry noted that state law says schools approved by the state for less than two years are only banned from having voucher students make up more than 20 percent of total enrollment.

Louisiana’s voucher program was made statewide in 2012 after initially being limited to New Orleans.

The expansion was pushed by Jindal, who said the law would give families needed options to escape troubled public schools.

Opponents argue that vouchers are a drain on state resources and that some schools are too dependent on voucher revenue for their operations.

The report noted that Louisiana’s voucher law sparked national attention last year when the Justice Department filed legal papers that said vouchers risked upsetting federal desegregation orders.

Jindal called the accusations absurd and a bid to kill the program through excessive regulation.

“Even while confronting a legal challenge from President Obama’s Department of Justice, Louisiana’s recently-expanded statewide voucher program has tripled the number of students served since 2012,” according to the report.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.