New courses to be scaled back

A ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court means the state will scale back plans to offer public school students classes through online firms, colleges and private companies, state Superintendent of Education John White said Friday.

The change, which stems from a 2012 state law, is called course choice and is set for launch during the 2013-14 school year.

LSU, Southern University and Acadian Ambulance are among the 40 or so approved providers.

But the state’s top court, in the same ruling that struck down voucher funding, said the new classes cannot be financed with the same fund that underwrites aid for traditional public school students, which is called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP.

As a result, the new classes will be started on a limited basis, with caps placed on how many students can enroll.

“We are going to recast course choice as a pilot program,” White said. “We will ration the number of enrollments that can be made by any one provider.”

Rather than using MFP dollars, he said, a limited offering will be paid for with funds from the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“We will not be seeking an appropriation out of the Legislature this year,” White said.

The session ends on June 6.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is looking for about $45 million to fund vouchers, which used MFP dollars this year until the court ruled that was unconstitutional.

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

White said that, while funding for those students can easily be redirected to other parts of the budget, aid for course choice is more complicated because most students would only be taking one or two courses.

About 900 students have signed up for course choice.

White said they will be asked to re-enroll starting next week.

The size and costs of the scaled-back program are unclear.

Details are supposed to be spelled out at BESE’s meeting in June.

Course choice was part of Jindal’s sweeping public school overhaul that won approval last year.

However, it got modest attention because most of the debate focused on the pros and cons of vouchers.

The classes are supposed to be free for students in public schools rated C, D and F by the state.

The average cost of one credit course is $700, education officials said earlier this year.

Providers are supposed to be paid half the costs initially and the other half if the student finishes the course on time, and slightly less if he does not.

White said early interest in the classes focused on remedial math, literacy, foreign languages and Advanced Placement courses, which allow students to earn college credit.

Louisiana has the lowest participation and passage rates for Advanced Placement courses in the nation.

Critics say course choice hurts traditional public schools, which are headed for their fifth consecutive year of freezes in spending per student.