5,100 new voucher slots available to La. students

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — More than 5,000 Louisiana students in 33 parishes can get new taxpayer-funded voucher slots at private schools this fall, under a law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that created a statewide voucher program.

The state education department on Tuesday unveiled the list of private and parochial schools that have been approved to participate in the voucher program expansion approved by lawmakers in April.

The final assignments and number of students who will take the seats for the 2012-13 school year will be set by the end of July.

Superintendent of Education John White said he was pleased with the level of immediate start-up interest by schools, which he said was greater than similar programs in other states. He said he expected the number of voucher slots and participating schools to grow in later years.

"This is a promising start to a program that will provide thousands of opportunities for families," White said.

Applications will be taken over six weeks for the newly-created 5,100 seats at private and parochial schools, most of which are in Louisiana's urban areas. Larger numbers of voucher seats are available in south Louisiana. White didn't expect all of the available voucher seats to be used.

Those slots come on top of 2,300 voucher seats that were already available to New Orleans students in the existing Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence program that had previously been limited to that city.

In the expanded program, 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 schools.

Parents also can apply for students who will be entering kindergarten in the fall if they meet the income requirements, which limit the program to families with an income of up to 250 percent of the poverty level as determined under federal guidelines. For a family of four, that would be about $57,625 per year.

Supporters of the voucher plan say it gives parents of children in low-performing schools more options for a strong education. Opponents say voucher programs drain money away from public schools, leaving fewer resources to educate their students.

Critics of the program expansion are planning to file a lawsuit challenging the use of the public school funding formula to finance the vouchers.

Thirty-two parishes besides Orleans Parish will participate in the expanded program. Parents must submit completed applications by June 29 to the private school they'd like their child to attend. If more students apply than there are available seats, voucher slots will be allotted through a lottery.

A second voucher program recently signed into law by Jindal won't start until the 2013-14 school year. That program will give out tax breaks for donations to voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools.

The law provides a nearly dollar-for-dollar state tax rebate to people and businesses donating money to nonprofit organizations that give the private school scholarships to students.

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