New rules could involve vouchers
State Superintendent of Education John White spelled out proposed new rules Friday for private and parochial schools to get state dollars, which could affect the quality of schools that qualify for voucher students.
The key change would allow non-public schools that are accredited by one of two independent groups to get the state’s seal of approval for five years.
Other private and parochial schools would face varying levels of state scrutiny that is supposed to be less laden with red tape and better aimed at judging the quality of the school’s leadership and instruction.
“We can reduce administrative redundancy and allow educators to focus on educating,” White said.
The changes will be considered by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday as part of its October meeting.
White discussed his proposal during an hour-long webinar with school leaders and reporters.
Under current rules, 359 of Louisiana’s 376 private and parochial schools enjoy state approval, which means they can collect state aid for transportation, textbooks and their students can qualify for a college scholarship called TOPS.
All the school reviews are generally treated the same, and the Department of Education collects considerable paperwork on the schools and conducts audits.
However, arguments about the quality of some of those schools erupted earlier this year when officials began implementing the state’s expanded voucher program.
Nearly 5,000 low-income students who attended public schools rated C, D and F qualified for state and local tax dollars to pay for tuition and mandatory fees at private and parochial schools this year.
However, some lawmakers and others raised questions about the space, curriculum and standards at a handful of the 117 private and parochial schools that qualified for voucher students.
Schools that do so collect an average of $5,300 per student from the state.
White said last month that the schools should undergo closer scrutiny before they get the state’s seal of approval. He noted on Friday that the new rules would apply to all non-public schools, not just those that get voucher students.
“Parents are making the choices about these non-public schools, as they have for generations,” White said.
The superintendent said that 240 of 359 private and parochial schools approved by the state are accredited by a third party.
“That means they are going through a rigorous review process of their practices by organizations outside of the government,” White said.
At the top level, he said, are schools accredited annually by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or the National Association of Independent Schools.
Those that do so, he said, would get a five-year seal of approval from BESE.
Schools accredited by other third-party groups would submit that approval to the state and, if it meets requirements, would be good for one year of state approval.
White said schools that lack accreditation by non-governmental groups will face online surveys from state officials to assess school leadership, teaching, curriculum and academic standards.
Gov. Bobby Jindal and other voucher backers — they call them scholarships — said the aid will allow students to escape failing public schools.
Opponents say that vouchers are an unconstitutional use of state and local tax dollars and have challenged the law in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.
A hearing is set for next month.