Alliance group attempts to open education options

School is not a challenge for fourth-grader Arissa Ford.

“She’s getting bored,” said her mother, Andrea Ford.

But a new school, one that Arissa Ford might attend under Louisiana’s expanded voucher program, could advance the girl’s learning, said her mother.

The Fords attended a school expo Saturday at St. Pius X Catholic Church, where the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options presented representatives of private, parochial and charter schools as educational alternatives for students and parents of failing public schools.

As she left the expo, Arissa Ford ranked the Children’s Charter Elementary School — which doesn’t accept vouchers — at the top of her list for new schools to consider for next fall.

However, as a Friday deadline looms for new students to register for voucher scholarships for the next school year, the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options is ramping up efforts to inform the community about opportunities that are available at private and parochial schools.

“We just want to make sure parents have access to all the information possible,” said Eric Lewis, state director of the alliance.

That includes addressing parents’ concerns about a November ruling in which a Baton Rouge judge determined that the voucher law is unconstitutional because it diverts public funds to private and parochial schools.

The state Supreme Court is set to begin reviewing that ruling on March 19.

The Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options assures parents that if the ruling is upheld by the higher court, the organization will go back to the state Legislature to find alternative funding solutions, said Lewis.

In fact, Hosanna Christian Academy has tentative plans to more than double its enrollment of voucher students to 700 next year if the voucher law stays intact. Principal Josh LeSage says Hosanna could double the size of its kindergarten through 12th-grade campus with another facility that is located about three miles away.

When talking to parents, LeSage said he explains Hosanna’s teaching philosophy: daily Bible class and a rigorous curriculum.

“We tell parents right away that there is going to be more homework than what you’re used to,” LeSage said.

LeSage said he believes Louisiana’s voucher law is constitutional because it gives parents a choice on where they can spend public money.

“Ultimately, it belongs to the parent,” LeSage says.

Scott Manguno, an education program consultant with the state Department of Education who distributed information packets to people attending the gathering, stressed that it’s important for parents to remember that they must also visit the schools of their choice so their children can be filed into the system.

Ideally, Roderick Williams would like to see his four children attend the same private or parochial school next fall. But he knows the chance of that happening is slim, since most schools have limited availability for new voucher students.

However, if his children do attend different schools, Williams said, they would likely get a better education than what they receive now.

“It shouldn’t be that hard to give a child the education that I had growing up,” Williams said.