Voucher notifications mailed out this week

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2012


Pontchartrain Newspapers

LAPLACE – Notifications of student acceptance and school assignments for the Louisiana Scholarship Program, also known as the voucher program, started mailing out this week, with all students expected to receive their letters no later than July 31.

Nine schools in the River Parishes are using the voucher program this year, including St. Joan of Arc, Ascension of Our Lord, Our Lady of Grace, St. Peter Catholic School, St. Charles Catholic and Steps to Success Learning Center in St. John Parish, St. Peter Chanel School in St. James Parish, and Sacred Heart of Jesus and Boutte Christian Academy in St. Charles Parish.

Since students have not yet been notified, it is not known how many students will accept the scholarships offered and attend the school with the scholarship offered. Additional news from the Louisiana Department of Education on the new system includes an accountability plan that has been proposed.

Under the accountability system, all participating schools will be accountable for academic results. All schools will administer state assessments and will be subject to regular academic review. Schools with more than 10 students per grade, or more than 40 students in all tested grades, will not be able to enroll new students if test scores are failing.

“Schools participating in the Scholarship Program know that student achievement is paramount, and all schools are accountable under this system,” said State School Superintendent John White. “The system establishes a common bar for performance across our state and includes swift consequences when programs don’t work for kids.”

To measure schools’ rates of success, the Department of Education will calculate a Scholarship Cohort Index (SCI), which will be similar to a public school’s School Performance Score. The SCI will only measure the results of students participating in the program and will not measure the school’s performance with students not in the Scholarship Program, according to DOE reports.

Starting with the 2012-2013 school year, SCIs will be released after the school year in which they are based. If a school receives an SCI below 50 (on a scale of 150) based on the second year of participation or any year after that, the school will not enroll additional scholarship recipients for the next school year. Students attending a participating school that receives a score below 50, in any year, will have priority admission to attend another participating school the following year. A minimum expected SCI of 50 is consistent with the new public school accountability system in which a School Performance Score of 50 is considered academically unacceptable.

Following four years of program participation, and in any period of four school years thereafter, if a participating school has scored below 50 for the majority of years in which it received an SCI, the school will not be able to enroll new scholarship recipients until it achieves a score above 50 and a satisfactory quality review by the Department of Education.

This policy mirrors consequences allowed for public schools following four consecutive years of low performance.

Additionally, in all schools BESE and the Department will ensure that approved nonpublic schools maintain a quality curriculum as prescribed for similar public schools and periodically will conduct reviews to determine whether the nonpublic school is maintaining quality.

If a participating school is found to have demonstrated gross or persisted lack of basic academic competence, the school may be declared ineligible to participate.

“We want and need to be accountable to parents and to the state,” said Dr. Jan Daniel Lancaster, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of New Orleans. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state to incorporate the accountability system for scholarship students enrolling in our New Orleans area Catholic schools.”

Lancaster has stated in the past that participation in the program by New Orleans Archdiocesan Catholic schools, which include those in St. John and St. Charles Parishes, is up to the individual school.

“The challenge facing the Department of Education has been to create standards that facilitate a reasonable degree of oversight without unfairly limiting the options available to parents or unduly burdening private schools.

These accountability provisions appear to successfully strike this delicate balance. This is further evidence that Louisiana continues to move in the right direction on K-12 education reform and great news for the thousands of families poised to benefit from school choice,” said Kevin P. Kane, President, Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

“LABI and the business community support the creation of this strong accountability policy for the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.

“LABI supports maximum school choice, but with choice comes responsibility, transparency, and consequences, and this policy includes all three of those important components. They will help us to create and expand quality educational opportunities for Louisiana students, and our entire state will benefit in the future from what we are doing today,” said Dan Juneau, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President.