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5 Ways Louisiana’s New Voucher Program Spells Disaster for Public Education

The state's new voucher plan could eventually cut public education funding in half.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Jorge Salcedo | Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

Late last month, the state of Louisiana unveiled a new school voucher program, joining 14 other states that have recently increased the availability of vouchers to fund private school tuition with public dollars. 

This latest pet project of popular Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, called Louisiana Believes, is now regarded as the most extensive voucher system in the United States -- out-privatizing even the state of Indiana, where nearly 60 percent of the state’s students are eligible for vouchers. By eroding caps on family income levels, and thereby providing voucher assistance to both low- and middle-income families, Indiana’s plan aimed to remake public education in the state more extensively than any voucher system in US history – until now. 

Like Indiana’s program, Louisiana’s new voucher plan is so wide in scope that it could eventually cut the state’s public education funding in half. But in a number of crucial ways, the Louisiana model works even harder to destroy public education than Indiana’s program does. Already approved by the Louisiana state legislature, the program sets an alarming precedent for undermining public education in other states. Here are five of its most dangerous components: 

1. Few Caps or Restrictions after Year 1: The program is modest in scope for the 2012/2013 academic year, but drastically expands after that. In this upcoming year, 120 private schools and a few high-performing public schools (most of them in Southeastern Louisiana) will be opened to voucher applications. About 5,100 students from low- and middle-income families previously enrolled in low-performing schools, along with entering kindergartners whose families meet the income requirements, will be eligible to apply for the euphemistically named “scholarships” this year.  

But things will change drastically during the 2013/2014 academic year. Vouchers that cover private school tuition will be expanded state-wide for middle- and low-income students from low-performing schools. There will no longer be any required caps on the number of vouchers that can be awarded. About 380,000 children -- well over half of Louisiana’s 700,000 school children -- will become voucher-eligible next year. Again, in the nation, only Indiana rivals this program in scope.

But Louisiana’s voucher program will take things a step further, still: In the fall of 2013, the state will begin to offer voucher assistance to students from families of all incomes. These $1,300 “mini-vouchers” will be available to all students enrolled in low-performing schools, and will be used to fund a wide range of educational activities, including online courses, religious study, private instructors, vocational apprenticeships and independent studies. (State Republicans consider this a “political compromise,” as they would have liked to award full tuition scholarships, not just mini-vouchers, to students from households of all income levels.)

Though the stated purpose of these mini-vouchers is to provide “remediation” for students who are struggling with core courses like English or mathematics, in practice, the new system will chip away at the state’s public education infrastructure, drawing vast amounts of funding out of the public schools and putting it into private hands. And in the process, it will shore up profits for long-time opponents of public education like testing-giant Pearson and online course-provider K-12, Inc., which will be operating said “remediation” programs.

2. Huge Deductions from Public Education Funding: While other states often try to hedge about the impact voucher programs have on public education funding, Louisiana has made no attempt to hide that its new program directly defunds public education. Because Louisiana is a solidly conservative – and solidly anti-union – state, pro-voucher advocates faced fairly little political pressure to support public schools, and had no real political incentive for hiding the fact that these vouchers steal money from public education. 

 
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