OPEN LETTER TO THE HOUSE AND SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEES
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans (CF1) endorses Governor Jindal's Education Reform Agenda and will advocate in support. However, as residents of the Greater New Orleans area where the pilot program is in place, we feel a responsibility to share our concerns with Section 4011 of HB 976 and SB 597. The following are the issues:
There is no academic threshold for a private school to be designated an eligible school in the voucher program. If the state is allowing a student to leave a C, D, or F school, then the state should establish a vetting process for academic accountability for private schools that would be equivalent to an A or B school. This could be accomplished through requiring 2 years of results from a nationally recognized, norm-referenced test which the applying school currently uses.
There is no published measure of results for moving the academic bar for the voucher students, and there are no consequences to the school for the failure to do so. Currently four of the approximately 30 voucher schools in the pilot program in Orleans Parish have LEAP and iLEAP scores from 2011 (latest test results) below the lowest performing RSD school in the district, and they are still on the approved list of schools for 2012 - 13.
A private school is not required to take special education students.
Prioritization of Need:
The state should focus resources on the students most in need and at risk. Therefore, the selection process should begin with students trapped in F schools, then move to D schools, and finally to C schools as capacity is available.
Limit on percentage of scholarship students:
The check and balance for a private school are parents that are willing to pay full tuition, serve on their boards, and demand academic and fiscal standards in exchange for their tuition. There should be limits on the percentage of voucher students that a school can accept, and there should be no provision for a start-up school to post a bond to side-step the requirement that a limit of 20% voucher students be imposed. Private schools do not have to comply with the public safeguards that are required of public schools, such as open meetings or open bid laws. Conceivably, a school could take public money and give contracts to businesses in which there is a vested interest or pay themselves to be administrators, and NO LAW WOULD BE BROKEN. A private school's ability to attract tuition-paying students is essential to avoid having schools formed solely to take public money.
These are serious concerns with the choice option for private schools. To be accountable to the public students in the program and to the public who is paying, Section 4011 of HB 976 and SB 597 should be amended to correct these problems.
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans