Three Years Later, No Significant Performance Improvements? What Can We Learn from the State’s Voucher Program


If you’re like most parents, you simply want the best for your child(ren).  And whatever it takes to attain it, you are likely willing to do.  For a parent whose child(ren) attends a public school in New Orleans, making the decision (or allowing the city’s centralized enrollment process One-App to make it for you) on which school your child attends can be as nerve-wrecking as it is empowering; but either way, it’s a decision that can be a strong determinant of how successful your child is in his/her future.

Following the results of a three-year study that identifies the academic outcomes (specifically English and math performance) of student recipients of the state’s private school vouchers provides through Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), parents can now know more about the impact of making the switch from public to private school settings.

Given that most often a negative narrative is associated with public education within the country and in New Orleans specifically, I would imagine parents of students attending a failing public school would jump on the chance to have their child enrolled in a private school setting, likely with the assumption their child would receive an educational opportunity that is much greater in comparison, but according to the report, “Overall, participating in the LSP had no statistically significant impact on student English/Language Arts (E/LA) or math scores after using an LSP scholarship for three years.”  Three years later, the recipients would be on the same performance levels as their peers who remained enrolled in public school.

Initially, upon reading the summaries of the study, I wanted to acknowledge what my expectations would be as a parent who decided to make the switch and I concluded I would expect my child’s performance to excel – period.  The reality is that playing the “catch up” game is probably a lot more difficult than we like to think. In addition to low-income, an additional requirement for admission is that the student attends a low performing school, as described in greater detail by the Education Research Alliance.  “The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) is a statewide initiative offering publicly funded vouchers to enroll in local private schools to students in low-performing schools with family income no greater than 250 percent of the poverty line.”

For a child, becoming acclimated to a different school culture, identifying where one lies academically in comparison to the previously enrolled students, and considering the different economic backgrounds is probably a lot more challenging than we would like to think.

Even more interesting is the difference in costs between both sectors, public and private, as the report goes on to state, “Average tuition at participating private schools range from $2,966 to $8,999, with a median cost of $4,925, compared to an average total minimum foundation program per pupil amount of $8,500 for Louisiana public schools in the 2012-13 school year.”  For practical purposes, if my son was eligible for admission into the voucher program during his fourth grade school year, by the end of his sixth grade school year, based on the data, his English and math performance levels should be equivalent to the comparison group of students who were not accepted into the voucher program.  Rather than the state fund his public school education at $25,500 for those three academic years, it would fund approximately, $14,775 – a $10,725 difference.  Think about this dollar amount for the approximate 7,100 students enrolled in the state’s voucher program.

So what should we take away from these results?

Well the fact there is even a gateway made available to funnel students from one system to another, is a clear indicator things are not right with the system itself.  It’s kind of equivalent to a landlord allowing its tenants to relocate from an outdated unit to a better operable and fancier one.  The difference with the property is the money it will take to repair the older units will be recouped in rent. Where is the recoup for our children who remain enrolled in the failing schools? Everyone can’t receive a voucher to make the switch to potentially receive a different experience.

Furthermore, if less money is being spent to potentially produce similar academic outcomes, then perhaps a tighter focus should be made on what resources the public dollars are being utilized to support systems (including academics, discipline practices, and teacher qualifications, etc.) because while impoverished communities are accompanied with an array of challenges, our state, and its students cannot continue to afford to do less, with more.
Click here to read the Education Research Alliance’s full report.

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