U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says Louisiana’s top school board should hold a special meeting in July to hammer out state oversight rules for private and parochial schools that accept voucher students.
“A gesture like this would assure the public that you recognize the value in building public support for our state’s aggressive reform efforts,” Landrieu said in a letter to state Superintendent of Education John White.
Landrieu’s office released the letter on Friday.
Under a new state law, low- and middle-income students who attend C, D and F public schools can apply for state-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.
The deadline application is Friday.
About 7,800 parents and guardians have applied for the roughly 7,450 slots available so far, said Barry Landry, a spokesman for the department.
The law, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, gives White wide authority to spell out accountability rules for schools that accept voucher students, including what kinds of state tests they have to take, whether students in key grades have to pass the tests to move to the next grade and whether private schools, like their public counterparts, should receive letter grades from the state.
White has said the rules will be finalized well before the Aug. 1 deadline.
But Landrieu said any state oversight regulations for the schools should undergo a public review.
The Democrat said she believes that private and parochial schools that take part should receive letter grades from the state.
She said she also favors “serious consequences” for non-public schools that underserve voucher students.
White said in a prepared statement on Friday that he is working with educators and state board members “to establish rigorous standards for schools particpating in the scholarship program and will finalize those policies in the weeks to come.”
The superintendent announced on May 22 that 124 private and parochial schools and one public school signed up to accept voucher students.
Department officials are conducting checks of the schools before any final decisions are made, including how many students each school qualifies for.
The vouchers will be funded with dollars previously reserved strictly for public schools.
The average tuition of schools on the list is $6,100, which would be paid for by the state.
Jindal touted the expanded voucher program as a way to let families trapped in failing public schools to switch to better ones.
Critics contend the law is unconstitutional, and three lawsuits challenging the measure are pending in the 19th Judicial District.
A hearing is set for next month.
The lawsuits were filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana School Boards Association.
All three groups vehemently opposed the law, which won approval in the Legislature in April.
In her letter, Landrieu noted that several of the voucher schools tentatively approved by the state Department of Education have generated controversy, including questions on whether they can handle an influx of new students.
“Clearly the department released a list of participating schools prematurely, without the proper vetting,” she wrote.
Baton Rouge area private and parochial schools have offered more than 1,100 seats for students who qualify for the state aid.
The vouchers are supposed to pay for tuition and fees charged by the nonpublic schools.
Families would be responsible for uniform costs and optional fees.
Family income cannot exceed $57,625 for a family of four; $67,525 for a family of five and $77,425 for a family of six.