Over the last several weeks, students, families, and advocates of education reform have witnessed exciting steps forward by numerous states to expand education options. Arizona, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Utah (among others) have implemented strategies to expand school choice and give children greater hope for a quality education.
Unfortunately, Louisiana may be going in just the opposite direction by attempting to eliminate the only school choice program in the state. The Louisiana House Appropriations Committee has proposed to cut funding for the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence program, which provides scholarships for low-income New Orleans students.
According to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the scholarship program, enacted in 2008, provides nearly 1,700 low-income students in New Orleans scholarships to attend private schools of their choice. Roughly 2,000 have already been awarded scholarships for the 2011–2012 school year, with 165 more children on the waiting list.
The House Appropriations Committee reasons that cutting funding is a step toward reducing state spending. Yet getting rid of a cost-effective school choice program is not the way forward. Compared to Louisiana public schools, which spend on average over $10,000 per pupil annually, the scholarship program costs just over half the price per pupil in the public schools at approximately $6,000 for each scholarship.
Cutting the program would mean forcing hundreds of students to leave their schools despite the overwhelming rate of satisfaction and the high demand for the program among parents of scholarship students.
With the choice program, I can send my child to the school of my choice. He’s learning on his level. The discipline is more stable.… Every child should have this opportunity, this chance to excel.
Like Louisiana’s program, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) has provided thousands of children the opportunity to leave underperforming schools to attend private schools of their choice. And the outcomes indicate great success: significantly higher rates of DCOSP students graduate from high school—91 percent, compared to 70 percent of their peers—parents are more satisfied with their children’s schools, and D.C. residents voice strong approval for the program. Just like D.C.’s program, scholarships for New Orleans students can mean the chance for a brighter future.
Dr. Monteic Sizer, director of Louisiana BAEO stated:
With tens of thousands of Louisiana children confined to underperforming schools, the state legislature can provide hope and opportunity to low-income children by expanding the New Orleans Scholarship Program this year.