by Will Sentell
Capitol news bureau
July 02, 2012
“I’m praying. A lot of people need help.” Geraldine davis, who applied for a voucher for her foster daughter, speaking of lawsuits challenging the program, which could delay or even kill the state’s expanded voucher program
Rayne Pierre applied for a voucher for her daughter, Regan, on the first day that state officials began accepting names.
Geraldine Davis is trying to land a spot for her foster daughter Shemika Guerin at the Louisiana New School Academy, where she would be in the ninth grade.
Both parents are hopeful.
So are at least 7,800 other parents and guardians, who see the aid as a way out of troubled public schools for their children.
The deadline for applications was Friday, and a final tally of applicants will be announced early next month.
Now state officials will be trying to match voucher applications with the roughly 7,400 slots that private and parochial schools have offered for the upcoming school year.
Pierre hopes to get her 12-year-old daughter into Hosanna Christian Academy, which is offering 200 seats.
She said she likes the spiritual guidance that the school offers, and in a setting likely much smaller than the 30 students that her daughter’s classroom had previously at Coteau-Bayou Blue Elementary School in Houma, where she finished the school year after her family moved to Baton Rouge in December.
“In a private school you won’t have a classroom of 30,” Pierre said.
Pierre said that, without a voucher, her daughter is likely headed to Woodlawn Middle School, which was rated D by the state last year.
“I am kind of afraid of more kids, more things that she would be exposed to,” she said of her daughter attending Woodlawn.
Louisiana’s expanded voucher program stems from one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school overhaul bills, which the Legislature approved in April.
Jindal promoted the plan as a way out for students and families stuck in failing public schools.
Opponents contend that vouchers are a violation of constitutional requirements that public school dollars only aid students in public schools.
Three lawsuits filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana School Boards Association are set for a hearing on July 10 in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.
Under the plan, families that qualify will have tuition and fees paid for by the state.
The average tuition of schools on the list is $6,100, which is well below the $8,500 average of state aid for students who attend traditional public schools.
Families would be responsible for uniform costs and optional fees.
Geraldine Davis said that, while her foster daughter Shemika had a good experience at Kenilworth Science and Technology School, she is leery of her attending a traditional public high school.
Some students in those schools wear their pants too low. “They don’t have any respect,” Davis said.
“Who wants that?” she asked during an interview at her home in north Baton Rouge.
Davis said she is aware that the voucher law is under legal fire.
“I’ve heard, I’ve heard,” Davis said of the lawsuits, which could delay or even kill the state’s expanded voucher program.
“I’m praying,” she added. “A lot of people need help.”
Felicia Augustus has applied for a voucher for her son Willie Augustus III, who is 10 years old and will be a fourth grader.
Augustus said she had mixed views about her son’s recent experience at Lanier Charter Elementary School, which was taken over by the state after years of poor performance.
Despite some good teachers “they didn’t have homework,” she said. “I am used to homework. That is one of the things that got me.”
Before that her son attended Crestworth Elementary, which was rated D by the state last year.
“They had some good teachers,” Augustus said.
“But it was so many kids in one class, where the kids weren’t learning what they needed to learn,” she said.
“It was so many for one teacher,” Augustus said. “You had kids out of control.”
Augustus hopes her son lands a voucher to attend St. Francis Xavier or Hosanna Christian Academy.
However, she is also concerned about the impact of the lawsuits, and what they could mean to her son’s future.
“It should be all about the kids not getting an education.” Augustus said.
If applications exceed capacity the state will hold a lottery.
“It is worth a try,” she said.