Applications for LA Vouchers Outnumber Open Seats by 2 to 1

The Louisiana school voucher program is over-subscribed, writes Andrew Vanacone for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Although a small minority of families who qualify for a voucher applied to receive one, the nearly 10,000 requests still couldn't be fully accommodated. With only 5,600 seats in voucher schools available, nearly 4,000 students couldn't take advantage of the program at all.

One such student is Chez'ianne Robinson, a 9-year-old from New Orleans who has a particular aptitude for mathematics and aspires to teach dance when she grows up. Compared to her peers, Chez'ianne academic situation isn't all that bad. Her school, the Green Park Elementary School in Metairie, is rated a C — which is good compared to the F and D-rated schools surrounding it. Yet her mother Crystal feels that the school staff aren't allowing her daughter to live up to her potential and that the curriculum isn't sufficiently challenging. As a result, this year Crystal applied for a voucher to send her daughter to a private school that would provide a better learning environment for Chez'ianne.

But with the number of applications nearly doubling the number of available slots, education officials were forced to use a lottery system to assign children to schools. Unfortunately, Robinson wasn't one of the kids picked, and she is set to start another year in Green Park.

"We're confident schools will add seats over time," said Nick Bolt, chief of staff to state Superintendent John White. Some private schools have decided to add students from the program one grade at a time, he said. Others have indicated "that they'd like to understand how the program works in year one, and they'll join in year two."

But, he added, "It's not our goal that this program will take over all of Louisiana."

It is this disconnect between the number of voucher seats available and the number of families looking to get their children into those seats that make the other parts of Governor Bobby Jindal's education reform plan just as urgent and important as the one expanding school choice in the state. The desire of families to get their children out of the public school system stems from a Louisiana public system that has historically performed abysmally. But education reform advocates are hoping that the recent introduction of a new evaluation system, along with tenure reform that will make it easier for schools to get rid of bad teachers, will prove to be the salvation of Louisiana's public schools.

Of course, none of this will transform Chez'ianne's school overnight. For her and her mother and the thousands of other families that have decided their public school won't do, there will be another year of waiting with fingers crossed to see if next summer's lottery breaks in their favor.

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