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More than 10,000 students have applied for state vouchers to attend private or parochial schools rather than troubled public schools, which is well above initial estimates, officials said Wednesday.
“It is fair to say that the number exceeds the numbers that were anticipated at the outset,” state Superintendent of Education John White told reporters.
White said families will be notified of school assignments in about two weeks, and after a possible lottery when demand exceeds classroom supply.
In addition, private and parochial schools that have proposed huge enrollment increases fueled by the state-financed vouchers — some of which have been the subject of news stories — will face scrutiny before they are approved, White said.
He said those decisions will try to strike a balance between parental demand for classroom seats and the need for schools to grow responsibly.
All the activity stems from legislation pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and approved by the Legislature in April.
Under the new law, students who attend public schools rated C, D or F by the state, and who meet income requirements, can apply for vouchers that are supposed to finance tuition and mandatory fees at about 125 private and parochial schools that are offering slots.
About 2,300 students took part in Louisiana’s initial voucher program, which was limited to New Orleans.
White said earlier this year that he expected about 2,000 students to apply for the new vouchers, which Jindal calls scholarships.
But more than 8,000 students have sought the new openings, which means 10,300 students have applied for what officials said earlier were 7,450 existing and new slots statewide.
If applications for specific grades exceed capacity, seats will be awarded through a prioritized lottery during the week of July 16.
One option for students not placed at their top school choice is to be placed in their second choice.
Families will then be notified of school assignments on the week of July 23.
Jindal and other backers contend that Louisiana’s expanded aid offers a way out for students trapped in failing public schools.
White has said the average tuition at schools on the list is $6,100 per year.
Two teacher unions and the Louisiana School Boards Association have filed lawsuits in the 19th Judicial District in hopes of having the law tossed out.
They contend the law is unconstitutional, in part because it will use state tax dollars long reserved for public schools for some students to attend private and parochial schools.
The voucher push came under fire last month, in part because of plans by some schools to double or triple enrollment in hopes of attracting voucher students.
White was grilled by state lawmakers last month about New Living Word School in Ruston, which stands to collect $2.7 million in state dollars by boosting enrollment from 122 students to 315 students.
Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, which is near Lake Charles, hopes to enroll 135 students, up from 38 during the 2011-12 school year.
BeauVer Christian Academy, which is in DeRidder, plans to increase enrollment from 60 during the last school year to 119.
White said that, under the rules announced on Wednesday, voucher schools that seek increases of more than 125 percent of enrollment from the previous school year, or 50 students more than previously enrolled, will be scrutinized.
He said about 20 of the roughly 125 voucher schools statewide meet that description.
White said there is a difference between schools that propose increases of 30 students each in two grades compared with those whose enrollment increases are spread over eight grades.
“It really depends on the complexity of the grade configuration,” he said.
State law gives White the authority to spell out accountability rules for voucher schools, such as whether they will receive letter grades from the state and give required tests.
However, White said the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for public school students statewide, will hold a special meeting before Aug. 1 to review the issue.
U. S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and others have said the issue is important enough for BESE to discuss it.