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Listen UP! What Me Worry? - Monday, June 11, 2012

Listen UP!


What Me Worry?



                Like something out of "Mad Magazine” is the response of the principal of BeauVer Christian Academy school in DeRidder, when asked by the Lake Charles American Press reporter if her A Beka curriculum would equip voucher students to pass the LEAP test.


                She claims her school’s students, who follow the A Beka curriculum (a Christian-based learning system also used by the Ruston –based New Living Word School), progress educationally about two years faster than their peers.  One wonders how she draws that conclusion, however, considering that students at BeauVer are not subject to taking the state testing


                The BeauVer school, like several other voucher-approved church and private schools, is light on computers, classroom space and teachers.


                The BeauVer principal was quoted as saying "If a parent sees that their child has a social delay, this is the perfect environment for them.”  Her five teachers are ready.

                In the Lake Charles area, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School and St. Theodore Holy Family Catholic School also invite voucher-recipient students, the former offering 14 seats and the latter 23 seats.  The principal of Our Lady of the Lake noted that, "Like Holy Family, the school requires a religion class for every grade.”

"Religion is the central component to everything we do,” Donnelly said. "It is all a part of our character education. We incorporate our faith in all of our teachings.”  St. Theodore also requires religious class.

                These and many other private and church schools believe that parental choice allows placement of their children into  higher quality schools.  The fact that most such schools have no way to demonstrate the validity of that claim seems not to be relevant.  Also apparently irrelevant are the results of the two year study of voucher programs conducted by Leslie Jacobs, former member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  The Jacobs study found that, with the exception of  two schools, all schools in New Orleans  receiving vouchers produced student results that were worse than the results obtained in RSD-NO direct run schools despite the fact that those schools are the worst-performing of all regular schools in the state.


                Interestingly, the budget letter adopted by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), as part of its Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), contains an allocation for Calcasieu to transfer part of its MFP to any of the private schools in the parish. 


Students at Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake are all required to learn 72 Bible verses annually as part of the school’s standard curriculum.  The school has been approved for 135 voucher students (nearly four-times its current enrollment) and charges $9,100 per student.  Under Act 2 and SCR 99, that religious school would be allowed to receive  $8,707 per pupil  of public funding that would be deducted from the state funding made available to the Calcasieu Parish School Board.  If the state allows all 135 seats to be filled, the School Board will lose $1.2 million from the MFP and services to its students will have to be cut.


                Issues such as transportation and lunch services are inconsistent statewide among schools on the provisionally approved voucher recipient schools.  Some of the schools’ principals clearly express the uncertainties surrounding state requirements and offerings as to explain they look upon the program as a pilot for this year.


                Another serious reservation that has been expressed by members of the Governor’s Private School Advisory Board stems from the fact that the Recovery School District administration dictates which student goes where.  This leaves schools whose parents pay tuition in the position of having to accept students who may disrupt the parent selected school culture.


                Contained in the May/June issue of The American Interest publication is a salient truism:  "Voucher programs on this scale have never truly been tried before, and it will take years to iron out the kinks and analyze the results…This is a bold test, and one that all Americans should watch.”


                The rush with which the Jindal administration bulldozed Act 2 of the RS 2012 through legislative committees kept legislators and interested citizens from the realization that the kinks were there and that good government, neutral-non-partisan groups such as the Bureau of Governmental Research in New Orleans, found many flaws that were never corrected.


                A pair of  judges in the 19th District Court will be hearing legal challenges to the Jindal voucher act.  It must be recognized that the act and the MFP that finances this diversion of tax-payer funding to private hands will, if upheld, result in local school districts stepping back to square one in adopting  budgets for the 2012-13 school year.  It will mean that, while costs may not be reduced, revenues will be cut by an estimated $50 million if all seats are filled.  Public school boards will have difficult times preparing their annual budgets without knowing how the litigation will unfold or how many students will be leaving their systems to receive educational services in private and parochial schools supported by state vouchers,  but commitments to teachers and vendors are pending as well.  Such is the dilemma facing Louisiana public school leadership.


Don Whittinghill

LSBA Consultant


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