Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has announced that nearly 8,000 students have been matched with voucher seats for the 2013-14 school year in the first round of applications, which represents an increase of 3,000 students over the program's first year. Danielle Dreilinger, writing for NOLA.com, reports that there will also be a second round of applications running from May 6 to 24.
The state received almost 12,000 applications, counting the 4,700 students currently enrolled. Matches were made in 128 of the 134 participating schools, representing 32 parishes. The Department of Education has not finalized which schools will participate in the second round.
Jindal said that evidence from New Orleans, where the program was piloted in 2008, suggests that it works, with third grade proficiency levels rising in both math and English — 23 and 12 percentage points respectively. Performance scores for the program statewide will be released later this month, and Jindal cited high levels of parental satisfaction as justification for keeping the program, in addition to its increasing public popularity level.
"It's no surprise that interest in the scholarship program is growing," he said. Academic achievement in these schools has grown more than the state average and students are "doing better than they were at the schools they left."
Superintendent John White is also a fan of the program, citing lower dropout rates for children in the voucher program compared to those students in public schools.
The scholarship program is about helping students improve, and White said he was "frankly baffled as to why someone would stand in the way of that."
Parent Valerie Evans, whose son Gabriel is in 7th grade at Resurrection, said the program had been an answer to her prayers. "My son was able to leave a failing school and enter a great school," she said.
Louisiana's voucher program is funded through the government per-pupil allotment, with scholarships coming out at $3,000 less than that amount. Proponents of the program state this as an additional benefit with every student who takes advantage of the program directly saving the taxpayer $3,000.
Jindal noted that this saving will total $18m this year alone.
Not everyone is on board with the program, however, and there has been recent legislative resistance. A Baton Rouge district judge ruled at the end of last year that the program was unconstitutional on the grounds that it diverted public school funds to private schools. That decision is currently pending appeal in the state Supreme Court with Jindal confident that the ruling will go his way.