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Louisiana Forges Ahead With Voucher Program

New bill will allow low-and middle-income students attending Louisiana low-performing public schools to receive state-funded vouchers.
La. Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards
In April, La. Gov. Bobby Jindal passed legislation expanding school vouchers. Prior to its passing, Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards, an opponent to vouchers, addressed the House with a large check for emphasis.

Formerly, vouchers in the state of Louisiana only existed in New Orleans and for students with special needs in eligible districts. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest bill to expand the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program is set to change that. The bill, signed by Jindal on April 18, will allow low-and middle-income students attending Louisiana public schools graded “C,” “D,” or “F,” to receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

“All students deserve a fair chance in life, and that begins with the opportunity to attend a high-quality school,” said Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White after the bill passed the state Senate in a 60-42 vote.

Support for vouchers is mixed in Louisiana, as it is throughout the country. A survey commissioned by the Friedman Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting school choice, and conducted by Braun Research, Inc., in March found that 60 percent of Louisiana voters surveyed were in favor of vouchers. Another survey, however, conducted by Louisiana State University in March, found that 48 percent favored or strongly favored (17 percent) school vouchers, with another 48 percent opposing them. Support was strong for charter schools, and an overwhelming number of respondents said that Louisiana’s schools need an overhaul. Only 8 percent felt the state’s schools were doing an excellent job preparing students for college.

A second bill, House Bill 969, was approved by the state Senate and, after minor changes were made, went back to the House for approval in May. This bill would allow corporations and individuals to recoup state general-fund rebates for contributions they make to private organizations that give vouchers.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie voiced his support for school choice and vouchers alongside Jindal at the American Federation for Children’s third annual National Policy Summit in Jersey City, N.J., on May 3. Currently, 18 states, including Louisiana, offer some type of private school choice either through vouchers or the tax code.

Christie is hoping to pass his education reform legislation through the Democratic-controlled New Jersey legislature by July 1, which would include provisions to use vouchers to send students in failing districts to other schools.