In The News › Accountability for Louisiana school vouchers: An editorial

Accountability for Louisiana school vouchers: An editorial

June 18, 2012
The Times-Picayune

As the state moves to pay for more students to attend private school this fall, one of the most important pieces is how those schools are held accountable for the academic results of those students.

But other guidelines released to the public last week by the state Department of Education did not include the accountability measures. An amendment to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package requires those rules to be in place by Aug. 1, and truly, they should be available now.

Schools are being approved for vouchers, and lower-income families have to apply by June 29 for a private school spot. How can they or the public judge the voucher program, though, without knowing what academic standards children and schools will have to meet?

It is imperative for Superintendent John White and his staff to ensure that the private schools in the program are academically sound and that there is a mechanism for cutting off vouchers to a school if its scholarship students don’t thrive.

The current pilot voucher program in New Orleans has minimal measurements for the private schools taking public school students. The students have to take the same standardized tests that they would in public schools, but the private schools’ performance is not judged on those results. And the schools face no consequences if a large portion of voucher students fail to thrive academically. That is not acceptable.

During the legislative session, the Bureau of Governmental Research laid out the pitfalls of lax or no accountability. “Under the proposed program, a student could use a voucher to transfer from an average-quality public school to a low-quality private school with no track record or qualifications,” BGR said in a report released earlier in the legislative session. “The student’s academic performance could decline, and the state would impose no penalties on the school. And taxpayers would foot the bill for all of it.”

State Rep. Neil Abramson’s amendment requiring accountability should take care of those concerns. But the rules have to be written strongly — and they need to be done soon.

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