Louisiana Course Choice Voucher Program Cut Back to ‘Pilot’ Status

The battle isn’t quite over yet, but voucher supporters in Louisiana’s administration are dealing with the reality of their loss in the state Supreme Court by cutting its Course Choice scholarship program back to “pilot” status.

The decision, announced by Education Superintendent John White, means that the Department of Education will not ask lawmakers to fund the program directly, bypassing the now-closed avenue of funding vouchers from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education money.

Danielle Dreilinger writes for The Times-Picayune that Course Choice, which was part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s 2012 education reform package, would have allowed any student from a public school rated C, D, or F to take outside classes with the cost being covered by the state. Students in well-performing schools would get more limited benefits – their courses would only be covered if not offered by their local school.

In the fall, more than 100 companies, organizations and schools signed up to offer Course Choice classes ranging from barbering to Bard Early College. The department chose 42 to participate. Each provider is limited to 250 Course Choice students. With an average course cost of $700, that would add up to a maximum of about $7 million.

The department had never given an enrollment cap or total cost because Course Choice was to be budget-neutral, shifting a portion of each student’s per-pupil allocation from the student’s public school to the Course Choice provider. But the state Supreme Court said earlier this month it was unconstitutional to transfer funds in that manner.

According to White’s announcement, the limit will now be set at 250 total enrollments per provider, which means students taking more than one course will count multiple times against a provider’s limit. Because of the change, students who already have approval to take an outside course will need to seek out a new one.

To ensure compliance, the state’s DOE will contact each student individually to make sure they’re still interested in participating.

According to NOLA.com, it’s possible that even with the cutback in the number of enrollments, the program might not hit the maximum as districts around the state are reporting a total of only 900 signups.

In fact, data released Friday by the department on the current accepted registrations suggest there is hardly any demand at all. No one was enrolled in classes from most of the 42 providers, including companies such as Sylvan Learning and the Acadiana Symphony.

Registering one student each were Accelerate@RET, Bossier Parish Schools, Connections, Edgenuity, Florida Virtual School, Lincoln National, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Princeton Review and S.M.A.R.T. Start Ministries. Six more providers had two to six signups.