Nearly 9,000 students receive vouchers

Nearly 9,000 students are getting state vouchers mostly to attend private or parochial schools, officials announced Wednesday.

How many students accept the aid will be known after school starts.

The total is up from 5,637 two years ago, which was the first year that a formerly New Orleans-only program was expanded statewide.

“These scholarships empower parents and allow them to select a school based upon their child’s individual educational needs so that they can grow up and pursue their dreams,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a prepared statement.

Jindal made the statewide voucher program a key priority of his 2012 push to revamp public schools.

Critics say vouchers siphon needed money from public schools. They also contend that the quality of some of the schools that accept voucher students is below par.

Jindal’s office and the state Department of Education said vouchers were awarded for the upcoming school year to 8,800 students in 133 schools that cover 30 parishes and 33 school districts.

More than 13,000 families applied for the aid, up about 1,000 from last year, officials said.

The school with the top number of voucher offers is Resurrection of Our Lord School in New Orleans with 531.

Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge has 474.

Students are eligible for vouchers if they attend public schools rated C, D or F and meet income rules.

Earlier this year, officials announced that 45 percent of voucher students achieved “basic” or above on LEAP and iLEAP exams — grade-level performance — compared with 69 percent of public school students. An Education Department spokesman said the 45 percent compared with 30 percent who scored “basic” or higher on standardized exams in 2010.