Vouchers ignite new arguments

Parents of voucher students need more information to ensure their choice of private schools is better than the public schools they fled, several members of a state legislative committee said Thursday.

State Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said mothers and fathers generally assume if they send their child to a state-approved private school with a voucher, that school it is academically sounder than the public school they left.

“But they don’t have any proof,” Nevers said.

The issue surfaced during a meeting of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council.

The panel reviewed a report issued on Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

That review said the state Department of Education is short on criteria to make sure schools are academically prepared to handle the voucher students they serve.

The report may spark renewed arguments over vouchers during the 2014 regular legislative session, which begins March 10.

Vouchers are state aid for students who attend public schools rated C, D or F to move to a private school with the tuition and some fees paid by the state.

Students have to also meet income requirements.

Nearly 7,000 students are enrolled in the program, which was expanded to a statewide effort in 2012 under a bill pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

State Superintendent of Education John White, who attended the hearing, said while he is open to discussing tweaks in the requirements, state law already requires that parents have access to private school test scores, parental satisfaction surveys and other information.

Nevers and other lawmakers questioned the possibility of assigning letter grades to private schools that accept voucher students since Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools get letter grades annually.

Efforts to pass such a requirement have failed in the Legislature.

Nevers noted that state law allows voucher students to move to public schools rated A and B, but has no such requirements for the quality of private schools.

He said the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is dominated by Jindal allies, “could implement that next month if they chose to.”

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, said that since vouchers became available in New Orleans in 2008 “these kids have left one failing school and go to another failing school” while parents think they are attending a better one.

Murray said how schools are rated needs to be the same “if the state is paying for it.”

White said voucher students are subject to the same standardized tests as public school students, including LEAP and iLEAP exams, which measures math and English skills.

He said private schools are not assigned letter grades because most students pay their own tuition.