Louisiana Voucher Program Continues to Draw New Applicants

Although the future of Louisiana’s voucher program remains uncertain, the interest among potential participants continues to grow, writes Danielle Drailinger for The New Orleans Times-Picayune. According to the state’s Department of Education more than 7,000 new students have applied to take part in the program this year — even though the program’s survival now rests in the hands of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The voucher program – called the Louisiana Scholarship Program – allows students in low-performing schools to get a state-funded scholarship that can be put towards tuition at any school of their choice. John White, the state Superintendent of Education, pointed to the higher numbers as a sign that despite whatever roadblocks are put up by voucher opponents, parents continue to indicate by their action that they support the government giving them more choice about their children’s education.

In the lead-up to the application deadline and the Supreme Court arguments – which fell within a week of each other this month – voucher supporters redoubled their efforts to promote the option. The Black Alliance for Educational Options held rallies and forums, and the Louisiana Federation for Children put out an advertising campaign encouraging parents to sign their children up for the program, which is intended to open opportunities for students in schools graded C, D or F who don’t have the financial resources to pay for tuition themselves.

It’s still unclear if all or even the majority of the new voucher applicants will be able to take advantage of the program this coming year. Although nearly all of the 4,700 previously accepted applicants are guaranteed spots, there has been only a modest increase in the number of schools taking vouchers this year from 118 to 134. Five of those schools will continue to accept vouchers but will not admit any new voucher students.

Vouchers aren’t just making a splash in Louisiana. According to The New York Times, 17 states currently offer some form of vouchers to their residents, either funding the scholarships directly or giving tax breaks to corporations that donate funds to independently run scholarship programs.

The Arizona Legislature last May expanded the eligibility criteria for education savings accounts, which are private bank accounts into which the state deposits public money for certain students to use for private school tuition, books, tutoring and other educational services. Open only to special-needs students at first, the program has been expanded to include children in failing schools, those whose parents are in active military duty and those who are being adopted. One in five public school students — roughly 220,000 children — will be eligible in the coming school year