Revamping Louisiana’s voucher program will be one of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ education priorities, a top aide said Tuesday.
One of the aims will be to remove public schools rated C from the list of students eligible for the state aid, said Erin Monroe Wesley, special counsel to the governor.
“We are looking very closely at the voucher program,” she said.
Wesley made her comments to a group called Volunteers In Public Schools, which assists the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
The former Baton Rouge Area Chamber official is temporarily handling school duties for Edwards until an education policy aide is selected.
Under current rules, students who attend public schools rated C, D or F can apply for the assistance, which allows them to attend private or parochial schools.
“We are looking to potentially pull the C schools out,” Wesley said. “So you would see legislation from us to address the C schools.”
She added later that the governor is “very concerned” about the voucher system in Louisiana.
“So it is something we are going to evaluate,” Wesley said.
Edwards is a longtime critic of vouchers, and opponents contend the aid siphons money from public schools.
Backers contend the assistance provides students a way out of troubled schools, and that parents give the program high marks in surveys.
The Legislature is in special session until March 9 to address the state’s roughly $900 million shortfall by June 30.
The regular session, including education debates, begins on March 14 and lasts until June 6.
Wesley said even more sweeping changes on vouchers and other education policies will be pursued in 2017, which would presumably be after state financial problems are settled.
“Is the voucher program effective? she asked, a reference to future debates. “Should we revamp it altogether?”
About 7,100 students, mostly minorities, receive the assistance.
The aid averages about $5,000 per child compared with $8,800 per student at public schools.
The state is spending about $42 million a year for vouchers.
Two recent studies have blasted the program, and a review by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said, in the first year, voucher students did worse academically than if they had remained in problem public schools.
But any push to overhaul the assistance is sure to trigger controversy four years after vouchers were first offered statewide.
Stacy Martin, state director of the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options, criticized the plan.
“Schools given a C rating indicates they are just barely making the grade, and it sets up a slippery slope if taken off the list,” Martin said in a prepared statement.
“What’s next? Removing D-rated schools?” she asked.
Ann Duplessis, president of the Louisiana Federation for Children, said Tuesday the state awards A’s to schools when students simply perform at grade level.
“So imagine what the kids are averaging if you get a C,” Duplessis said.
On another subject, Wesley said the Edwards administration has made no decision on whether to back the revamped version of the Common Core academic standards.
A panel of teachers and others has recommended changing about 20 percent of the 1,287 standards.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will review the recommendations on Thursday and Friday, then sign off on its own version.
Edwards is a Common Core critic who has said any revamp needs to be substantive.