Tests and other oversight for voucher students will be less stringent than rules for public school students, officials predicted Monday.
The guidelines are being developed by state Superintendent John White, as required by a new state law.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, is set to hold a special meeting at 11 a.m. July 24 to discuss the rules, which are due by Aug. 1.
But officials familiar with the issue said they are not expecting White to recommend voucher policies that mirror those governing public schools, including letter grades and high-stakes tests for fourth- and eighth-graders.
The rules requirement stems from a bill pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and approved by the Legislature in April, that expands Louisiana’s voucher program statewide, not just in New Orleans.
Students who have attended schools rated C, D and F by the state, and who meet income requirements, can apply for state-funded vouchers to offset most costs to attend private and parochial schools.
Jindal and others contend the aid is one of several options for students trapped in failing public schools, especially with 44 percent of public schools rated D or F.
Opponents say vouchers will damage financially strapped public schools, and three public school groups have challenged the law in the 19th Judicial District Court.
Exactly what tests voucher students should have to take, and how those schools that house them will be held accountable, has been the subject of off-and-on debates for months.
Michael Falk, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, has met with White in small groups of superintendents to discuss the issue.
He said Monday he does not expect White to require voucher students to face high-stakes tests, which means they have to pass them to move to the next grade.
Under current rules, fourth- and eighth-graders at public schools have to pass a skills test called LEAP to move to the next grade.
Falk said he thinks voucher students will be required to take state tests and those results will be reported to the state for inspection.
That generally mirrors the testing policy for the current voucher program, which is limited to about 2,300 students in New Orleans.
Falk, who is superintendent of the Central Community School District, said he also doubts that voucher schools will get annual school performance scores, which are linked to letter grades and which largely reflect how students fare on standardized tests.
Last month U. S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said private and parochial schools that accept voucher students should get letter grades from the state.
Critics contend that any such grade would be distorted, mostly because voucher students will make up a small percentage of any school’s population.
Brigitte Nieland, vice-president for workforce development and research at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said she does not expect voucher students will face high-stakes tests or that schools that accept them will be assigned letter grades.
Nieland said she would oppose both.
She said the rules should spell out goals for voucher schools, those schools should be subject to periodic reviews and be allowed to expand if they show progress.
If not, Nieland said, the school should be banned from accepting new students.
During Louisiana House debate on the voucher bill some lawmakers tried to add an amendment that would have required high-stakes tests and letter grades for voucher schools.
It failed 34-61.
The House approved an amendment that requires the state Department of Education — essentially White — to create an accountability system for voucher students and schools they attend by Aug. 1.
State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans and sponsor of the amendment, said he offered the change so that education officials, not state lawmakers, would craft an oversight system.
“In terms of details of all that I thought it was best left to the experts, which is the Department of Education,” Abramson said.
He said any such guidelines should include consequences for failure to meet the state criteria.
White announced last week that 10,300 students have applied for 7,450 new and existing voucher slots.
The state has about 700,000 public school students attending about 1,300 public schools.