A new report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform examines the elimination of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which was proposed as an answer to the troubled financial situation currently facing the Louisiana Department of Education budget.
The report, "Squeezing the Public School Districts: The Fiscal Effects of Eliminating the Louisiana Scholarship Program," takes a closer look at what would happen to individual districts in the state if the scholarship program were to come to an end. While additional revenue would be given to each district by the state in order to help affected students, there would also be additional costs to districts to educate these students. The report compares these additional costs with the additional funding received from the state for each district.
Policymakers in the state considered ending the program in an effort to improve the financial situation faced by the Louisiana Department of Education budget. In the end, they decided to reduce funding for the program so that it reaches below the level that is needed in order to fully support every student in the program, including those that are continuing as well as those that will be new this year, who were chosen through the 2016 LSP lottery. It is believed that at least some of the students who were expecting to attend private school this year will instead be educated through the public school system.
Originally named the Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program, the LSP began as a pilot program in 2008 which then increased to include the entire state in 2012. The voucher program is available to all students in K-12, offering low-income students the ability to opt out of the low-performing traditional public school they currently attend. Qualifying students take with them some of the per-student funding given to their district by the state, giving it instead to a participating private school of their choice.
Qualifying students must either be enrolled in a public school with a rating of C, D, F, or T in the previous year or be entering kindergarten. Their entire family income can be no more than 250% of the federal poverty line, or $60,625 for a family of four in 2015-16.
The authors state that overall, the fiscal impact on districts would be negative if the program were to be eliminated. In total, they say that only two to seven of the 69 school districts in the state would benefit as a result of the elimination of the program. The average outcome for affected districts would total $1,500 in financial loss per returning voucher student for 2016. In addition, the authors say that more than 80% of student transfers would result in a financial loss for individual districts.
The authors add that while they focus on the elimination of the LSP, the same analysis could be applied to any situation that would result in students moving from private schools to public schools within the state. This includes the current funding cap which could cause come of the LSP students that are currently within the program to be forced out. The cap has also created a waitlist that already has more than 400 students on it for next year.