Ruston school raises some new voucher concerns
The New Living Word School probably wasn't the poster child Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration wanted for its new statewide voucher program.
The Ruston church-affiliated school has gotten widespread attention at the Capitol because of its plan to more than triple its enrollment by adding voucher students while raising tuition costs on the state's dime, though it's questionable whether the school has the immediate capability to handle such growth.
It's been a public relations nightmare for Superintendent of Education John White, and it has left even supporters of the voucher program that was pushed by the Republican governor publicly questioning whether enough safeguards were added to the program that will use tax dollars to send children to private and parochial schools.
Critics of the voucher program saw the example of the New Living Word School as new ammunition against a program that expands statewide for the upcoming school year.
But the attention generated by the school's plans could highlight potential loopholes and areas of concern, as education officials devise the regulations of a program that will educate thousands of students each year.
Lawmakers gave final passage to the statewide voucher program early in the legislative session, and Jindal has been showered with praise from conservative groups around the country for pushing its creation.
White announced that private and parochial schools had said they could take in more than 5,000 students in the expansion of the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence program that had previously been limited to New Orleans.
New Living Word School was at the top of the list, offering more spaces for voucher students than anyone else, willing to accept 315 children.
But, as first reported by The News-Star newspaper in Monroe, the school had only 122 students in the past year and had limited facilities and equipment. The school's principal and the church pastor described himself as moving forward "on faith," with plans to build new facilities and to increase student tuition when the tax-funded vouchers to his school begin.
That proposal didn't sit well with lawmakers, who gave White wide latitude to create this program.
"How did the department give them approval for 315 slots when they don't have places for them to sit?" Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, asked White at his confirmation hearing in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Senators also weren't pleased when they learned White had released the numbers of voucher slots available without visiting the schools to ensure they could capably educate the children they were willing to take with the tuition grants from the state.
White said the figures released by the education department were based on an initial approval and a projection of what the schools estimated they could handle. He stressed that the education department had more reviews to do, and he pledged a visit to the New Living Word School in Lincoln Parish.
It's a school that raises a slew of questions about how the state will roll out sweeping educational changes pushed by the governor.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.
OOOPS! Already a mis-step. This is what most thought would happen. Why not fix the existing schools and move into the technology age of teaching. STOP GOING BACKWARD so the 1% will get richer!