Ruston school banned from accepting voucher students

A church-affiliated school in Ruston was tossed out of Louisiana’s voucher program after an audit turned up problems, officials said Friday.

New Living Word School also owes the state about $395,000, state school leaders said.

The school, which sparked controversy last year, was found to be charging voucher students higher tuition and fees, which is a violation of state rules.

New Living Word School officials could not be reached for comment.

The accounting firm that did the review, Postlethwaite & Netterville, of Baton Rouge, said school leaders claimed that nonvoucher students paid much of their tuition and fees through in-kind goods and services.

But auditors said there is nothing in state rules that allows such payments in determining whether all students are charged the same.

State Superintendent of Education John White said school officials also inflated the value of the in-kind donations, including rental space.

Last year, White was grilled by state lawmakers after a news story disclosed that New Living Word School stood to collect $2.7 million in state school dollars if all of its requested 315 students were approved.

Enrollment was 122 at the time.

Critics questioned whether the school had enough space as well as proposed tuition levels.

State educators later decided that the school could accept 165 voucher students.

White said 93 voucher students were enrolled for the 2012-13 school year.

The $395,000 represents the difference between what was charged voucher students compared to what other students were required to pay.

White said the problem is the lone substantive issue among 117 voucher schools that were reviewed.

The audits are required by state law.

Vouchers are financial aid for some students to attend private and parochial schools.

Backers say they offer students and parents a way out of failing classrooms.

Critics contend the assistance drains dollars from hard-pressed traditional public schools, and that the quality of the voucher schools is uneven at best.

The department said parents of students attending the school will be contacted by telephone or email by Monday for options.

They can also call the agency at (877) 453-2721.