Posted: Jul 23, 2012 5:03 PM by AP News
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A slice of the private schools in Louisiana's statewide voucher program will face performance scores similar to public schools and could face penalties for low performance, but only if they have a sizable number of taxpayer-subsidized students, under accountability plans outlined Monday.
State Superintendent of Education John White estimated about a quarter of the private schools in the voucher program for the upcoming school year would meet the benchmarks for being subject to the scoring and penalties.
White described the accountability plan he's proposed as establishing "a rigorous bar for student achievement."
All voucher students in third through 11th grades will take the same standardized tests as public school students, and those scores will be reported.
Private schools with more than 10 voucher students per grade or more than 40 voucher students in all tested grades will receive a performance score, called a "scholarship cohort index."
After two years in the voucher program, low-performing schools - ranked below 50 on a 150-point scale - won't be able to enroll new voucher students until they improve their score. Voucher students in a private school that scores below 50 will have priority admission to another school.
Lawmakers required White to devise accountability standards for the statewide voucher program, which is set to begin next month. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote Tuesday on whether to back them.
Leslie Jacobs, a New Orleans education advocate and former BESE member who pushed for accountability standards in the voucher program, said White's proposal "strikes the right balance between the need for public accountability and the different ways private schools will participate in the program."
The superintendent said he expects the number of private schools to hit the scoring benchmark to grow as the voucher program grows over the years, and he defended 40 students as a reasonable number of students to show the performance of a school.
He said 20 students, for example, would be inappropriate because it would be the equivalent of a only one class. "One class of kids on which you are then measuring a school's performance is too low," he said.
Taxpayer-funded seats at private and parochial schools are available to students who are from low- to moderate-income families and who attend public schools rated with a C, D or F under the state's school accountability program. Priority is given to students in D- and F-rated schools. Parents also could apply for students entering kindergarten in the fall if they met the income requirements.
The number of students who will have voucher seats will be decided within the next two weeks as the education department matches student applications to available school slots.
Voucher supporters hope the accountability standards will end some criticism of the program, after reports that some schools seeking to double and triple their enrollments by adding voucher students didn't appear to have adequate facilities and staff to handle them.
Under White's plan, BESE also will periodically review the curriculum of the private schools in the voucher program to determine quality. If BESE decides a private school isn't meeting the curriculum standards, the school could be booted from the voucher program.
"If the school lacks basic academic competence, the department may intervene to end participation," White said.
Some of the parochial schools seeking to take voucher students have been criticized as providing inadequate science instruction and letting religious beliefs dictate the science teaching. White's policy doesn't describe what is deemed a "persistent lack of basic academic competence."