A voucher program in Louisiana will give public money to more students to attend private schools in the 2014-2015 school year.
In total, 8,800 students received the vouchers, which Governor Bobby Jindal refers to as "scholarships". That is a 30% increase from last year's total of 6,751 students who used the vouchers.
There were 13,000 applicants hoping to gain what they believe to be a better education for their children. That's 1,000 more applications than were received last year, showing the popularity of the program.
Applicants are chosen through the Department of Education, which works with participating schools to match students to their school of choice. When there are more applicants than available seats, a lottery system is used.
"I think the scholarship gave me a great opportunity. Without it, I probably wouldn't be headed to a great university as salutatorian. I probably would have been looked over and lost in the crowd. I believe if I can stay focused and determined, I can be very successful," said Ashlee White, 2014 salutatorian of Lutheran High School and Louisiana Scholarship Program student.
Schools went through a rigorous process of having state officials approve surveys, visit their campuses, and review their accreditation in order to participate in the program. In the end, 133 schools were accepted to the program, six more from last year's participants.
The vouchers are available to low-to-moderate-income families with children enrolled in public schools with a low grade on the state's accountability system (C, D, or F), as well as to those families with children entering kindergarten.
The program was sued by the US Department of Justice last August, on a claim that the voucher system hurt efforts of school integration. A federal judge ruled in November that enrollment data must be supplied. Jindal replied to the lawsuit, claiming school choice is a civil rights initiative.
"These scholarships empower parents and allow them to select a school based upon their child's individual educational needs so that they can grow up and pursue their dreams. We will continue working to improve education across our state and protect the scholarship program so that more students have an opportunity to get a great education," Jindal said.
A recent poll conducted by the Louisiana Alliance for Black Educational Options found that 93% of parents with children participating in the program are happy with the schools their children attended.
Eric Lewis from The Black Alliance For Educational Options said, "The continued increase in demand for the Louisiana Scholarship Program is a testament to the opportunities that parents across Louisiana continue to seek for their children. Our children deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential and this program is one avenue that has been created by our legislature and our governor. We will continue to stand with parents to ensure that generations of children will continue to have similar opportunities."