Gov John Bel Edwards proposes curbs on Louisiana vouchers, charter schools

In a plan sure to spark controversy, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday proposed narrowing eligibility for Louisiana’s voucher program and making it harder to launch charter schools.

Edwards, in a 29-minute speech to a joint session of the Legislature, said he wants vouchers limited to students attending D and F public schools, not C, D and F, which is current law.

The governor said the original aim of the aid was “to provide a choice to parents whose kids are trapped in failing schools.

“This is why I believe we should redesign voucher eligibility to only students in D or F schools,” he said. “C schools, by definition, are not failing.”

In another area, Edwards said he wants to end the ability of Louisiana’s top school board to override charter school decisions by local school boards in districts rated A or B.

Under current rules, charter school advocates who fail to win approval for their plans from local boards can appeal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The governor said such a move would “restore more local control over how children are educated and tax dollars are spent to local school boards that perform well under our accountability system.”

“School districts with A or B grades must have the final say in whether a new charter school will open in the district,” he added.

Charter school advocates have long argued, while a district may enjoy an A or B rating, individual schools are often rated lower and those parents deserve a chance to pursue the charter school option.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said the governor “is choosing a path that makes it more difficult for parents to make decisions as close to their children as possible by putting up hurdles that includes blocking an appeals process.”

Aside from the Recovery School District, BESE has authorized 35 of the state’s 144 charter schools.

Vouchers are state aid for low-income students that allow them to leave public schools rated C, D or F and attend a private school.

About 7,100 students collect vouchers in the current school year, mostly in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The aid costs the state about $41 million per year.

More than one in four public school students — 27 percent — attend C-rated public schools, according to the state Department of Education.

Ann Duplessis, president of the pro-voucher group Louisiana Federation for Children, said Monday that under Louisiana’s accountability system, students at A-rated schools are only performing at grade level.

“So if you have (students) two grades below that, what does that mean?” Duplessis asked. “I would think we ought to be promoting excellence and high achievement.”

Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.

They are supposed to offer innovative classroom techniques.

About 69,000 students attend charter schools, which dominate the public school system in New Orleans.

Edwards also told reporters after his speech that, because of the state’s $800 million shortfall for the financial year that begins July 1, the $3.7 billion requested by BESE for public schools likely will have to be trimmed.

BESE’s request, earlier backed by the governor, included $44 million that lawmakers approved last year.

“I don’t believe that $44 million is going to be there,” he said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.

More Stories