Louisiana’s two largest programs underwriting private school tuition with public money each both grew modestly last year, but at a slower pace than their early days.
In 2017-18, the programs collectively paid full or partial tuition for almost 9 percent of the children attending private school in the state. Last year, they added about 300 students each to their rolls. All told more than 9,200 children in the state participated. Six out of 10 private schools in the state are using one program or the other, or both.
The Louisiana Scholarship Program and the Tuition Donation Rebate program were both created by the Legislature in 2012. The programs allow children who attend public schools — or who are just starting kindergarten — to pay for private schools. The former is limited to students coming from lower performing public schools, while the latter is open to student from any public school.
To be eligible, a family can earn no more than 250 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $62,750 a year for a family of four. About 47 percent of families in Louisiana earn less than that threshold.
A fast-growing, publicly financed tuition assistance program for Louisiana private schools hit a big snag this year with the demise of its big…
Louisiana Scholarship Program, often called the voucher program, is the bigger and better known of the two.
After rapid growth in its first two years, the voucher program has hovered around 7,000 children annually for the past few years. About 120 private schools participate, or about a third of the private schools operating in Louisiana.
The voucher program's growth prospects for the future are limited since it's funded by an annual legislative appropriation. That appropriation has remained about $40 million a year for the past few years.
Despite the program's overall stability, there’s ample change at the school level when it comes to vouchers.
This coming school year, 86 voucher schools are opening seats to new students, up from 80 schools doing so a year ago. But they will collectively be making available 241 fewer seats than a year ago.
Some schools have significantly dialed back their involvement. For instance, Our Lady of Prompt Succor School in Westwego, one of a handful of private schools where every student is receiving come kind of public assistance, is adding 95 voucher seats this coming year. That’s 112 fewer than it agreed to add a year ago.
In Baton Rouge, St. Louis King of France Catholic School, located at 2311 N Sherwood Forest Drive, closed in May. Almost all of its nearly 300 students were using some kind of public assistance to attend the school, including 148 using vouchers. They must find another school in town that accepts vouchers or figure out somewhere else to go to school.
Another Catholic school in Baton Rouge, Redemptorist Elementary School, 3655 St Gerard Ave., is expanding its voucher participation, adding 142 new voucher seats this year, the most of any school in the state.
Eight private schools are now offering vouchers for the first time. Three are located in the Capital region: Baton Rouge International School, Cristo Rey Baton Rouge High School and False River Academy in New Roads. The three schools have awarded 59, 14 and 26 voucher seats, respectively, for when school starts in August. Unlike the other two schools, Baton Rouge International had not previously participated in any state public assistance program for private schools.
Other private schools new tothe program this year are Concordia Lutheran School in Marrero, St. Gregory Barbarigo Catholic School in Houma and Torah Academy in Metairie. Two newly created schools are offering vouchers as well: Hype Academy in New Orleans and eLearningAcademy in Thibodaux.
As budget cuts have led Louisiana private schools to cut back on the number of children they enroll via vouchers, these schools are turning in…
As vouchers have plateaued, the state Department of Education has increasingly turned to its sister initiative, the Tuition Donation Rebate program, or TDR, as an alternate way to publicly support private school education.
TDR grew to about 2,000 students, and eight more schools accepted scholarships from the program in 2017.
Several changes to the program approved by the Legislature a year ago took effect Jan. 1, and it's unclear what impact they may have on it. The first indication will be in September, when the state conducts a count of TDR students.
Similar to an approach used by some other states, the Tuition Donation Rebate program relies on the tax code to direct money to private schools rather than state appropriations.
Donors underwrite a portion of a child’s private school tuition and later get back 95 cents for every dollar they give. And they can write the whole thing off as a charitable donation on their federal taxes.
Student tuition organizations, or STOs, administer the Tuition Donation Rebate program for the state.
Only two of the four approved STOs in Louisiana — ACE Scholarships and Arete Scholars — place students in private schools statewide. ACE is by far the larger, lining up 65 percent of the scholarships paid out in the state last year.
Arthur Dupre, the Louisiana director of ACE, said the organization is thus far weathering the changes in the program.
“We are on track to serve more kids than ever this school year,” Dupre said, but would not speculate on how much more.