Group likes accountability in La. voucher program

A review of desirable accountability in voucher programs and tax credits.
A review of desirable accountability in voucher programs and tax credits.

Louisiana’s controversial voucher program is one of at least four nationwide that includes key accountability measures, a pro-voucher group said in a report issued on Tuesday.

The review was done by the Thomas Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C., which calls itself an education policy think tank.

“I think it is fair to say that Louisiana is a national model when it comes to transparency and accountability,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the group.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, criticized the study.

Monaghan said the report is actually a push for vouchers by a group that backs the assistance, ignores a wide range of problems in schools that accept students getting the aid and that voucher students do not face the same consequences as public school students on state tests.

Vouchers are state aid for low- and middle-income students who attended public schools rated C, D and F to attend private schools.

The assistance, which used to be limited to New Orleans, was made statewide under a 2012 law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Nearly 7,000 students in Louisiana are attending schools using vouchers this year.

Backers say the assistance offers families a way out of troubled public schools.

Opponents contend the aid is a drain on education dollars and that the program has been beset by a wide range of problems.

The report said Louisiana, Indiana, Cleveland and Milwaukee have enacted voucher accountability measures “that have generally gotten these policies right” in shedding light on how students fare in the classroom.

It said, in Louisiana, many voucher students take the same test as their public school counterparts and that private schools that meet certain thresholds get a performance rating.

Schools with low ratings can be removed from the program, the study noted.

In Louisiana, schools with an average of 10 or more voucher students per grade, or 40 or more students enrolled in tested grades, receive a performance score.

Only 23 of 118 schools that accepted voucher students received scores for the 2012-13 school year.

Of those, 13 scored the equivalent of an F.

Petrilli called those results “pretty disappointing.”

“But it is important that we know that,” he said. “In many states, we don’t have any idea on how those students are doing in private schools that are getting these public vouchers.”

Most voucher students in Louisiana are enrolled in grades kindergarten through second.

That means 48 percent are in grades tested by the state and all those results are made public as long as the school met enrollment thresholds, said Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Indiana assigns letter grades to private schools that take part in that state’s voucher program.

A similar effort failed in the Louisiana Legislature.

The report said 32 voucher programs are operating nationwide, mostly run by states.

Meaux said the Fordham Institute is a “conservative, right-wing organization” and the study ignored research that conflicted with the case for vouchers.