St. Charles Herald-Guide

School voucher program has little effect on parish

Kyle Barnett - September 27, 2012

A total of 27 students from St. Charles Parish have received tuition for private schools under the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP).

The total benefit for the private schools who received St. Charles students is $95,765, which the state claims is a savings of $124,961 over the amount that would have been spent sending those same students to St. Charles Public Schools.

Out of those scholarships, Boutte Christian Academy (BCA) received the most with 17 going to their kindergarten class alone in addition to two to the third grade and one to the fifth grade.

Kim Babineaux, administrator of BCA, said due to increased enrollment from the scholarship students they have added a new kindergarten class this year.

"Itís really a blessing for these families. Not only are the vouchers good for this particular school year they will allow the students to stay in our school," Babineaux said.

Students who receive the scholarships are allowed to keep them, as long as they meet income requirements, throughout the remainder of their private school education.

Sacred Heart of Jesus School received five voucher students altogether spanning kindergarten through third grade and fifth grade.

The two other schools that received scholarships for St. Charles students are in Jefferson Parish – Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kenner received a scholarship for a kindergartner and St. Agnes School in Jefferson received a scholarship for an eighth grade student.

The scholarships were pushed by the Jindal administration as a way to give students who reside in attendance zones of poorly performing schools the opportunity to attend private or parochial schools.

Under the law, students who live in the attendance zones of public schools that receive a C, D or F have the option to apply for a scholarship to a private school.

However, part of the law, called a loophole by some critics, allows those who are in the attendance zones of highly performing schools to receive the vouchers if they are already enrolled in private school or are entering kindergarten.

Out of the 27 scholarship students living in St. Charles Parish, 20 are entering the schools as kindergartners and are allowed to attend the private schools despite potentially residing in attendance zones for schools that have A or B ratings.

Superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public Schools Dr. Rodney Lafon agreed with the characterization of allowing kindergartners to attend private schools, despite having access to highly performing public schools, as a loophole.

"It is something the legislature did," Lafon said. "The question is would they have gone to St. Charles Parish Public Schools anyhow? We donít know."

BCA and Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Norco, who received the most scholarship students in the parish, also have the distinction of not being accredited, which is something critics have pointed to as a problem.

In a statement, Babineaux said despite not being accredited BCA meets state requirements for the scholarship program.

"As a state-approved non-public school, BCA has state-certified teachers in all of our pre-kindergarten through 8th grade," Babineaux wrote.

Babineaux also wrote that the school administers standardized tests to their students such as the Developing Skills Checklist for pre-K students, Stanford Achievement Test for kindergartners and Iowa basic skills test for students in the second through eighth grades. In addition, Babineaux said accountability standards will be applied to scholarship students.

"Boutte Christian Academy will administer additional testing for LSP students as part of the LDOEís (Louisiana Department of Educationís) accountability program," Babineaux wrote.

Calls to Sacred Heart of Jesus School for this story were not returned.

School voucher program has little effect on parish