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Posted at 10:08 AM ET, 05/31/2012

A scary (and telling) school voucher story

Correction: An earlier version of this post dropped the word “not” in the following sentence, which is now correct: If the new building is not finished by the fall, he said, new students can hold class in the church gym.

If you are wondering where the new rush to implement school voucher programs in state after state may be taking us, consider these developments from Louisiana.


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (Mike Carlson - Associated Press)
Gov. Bobby Jindal recently signed a new law that sets up the largest voucher program of any state in the country. It is part of a series of “reforms” that Jindal says will expand school choice for families and critics say is the broadest state assault on public education in the country.

Louisiana just announced that for 2012-13, 125 private and religious schools from across the state have qualified to participate in Louisiana Believes program, which gives families public money to pay school tuition for their children.

One of those schools is the church-affiliated New Living Word School, which was approved to increase its student enrollment from 122 to 315 — even though it doesn’t have the space, computers or the teachers to handle the students, according to the News-Star.

This means that this school will have 100 more voucher slots than any other school in Louisiana. The state Department of Education chose schools to qualify for vouchers without visiting any campuses.

According to the News-Star, Rev. Jerry Baldwin, the school’s principal and pastor of New Living Word Ministries, said that construction will begin this summer on a metal school building though he isn’t sure when it will be done. Current students now attend class in rooms used by the church’s Sunday school. If the new building is not finished by the fall, he said, new students can hold class in the church gym.

The school’s mission, according to its Web site, is: “The mission of NLWM School is to provide a foundation built on biblical principles that will create an atmosphere for scholastic advancement and spiritual development.”

The school, Baldwin was quoted as saying, is moving forward “on faith.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch also reported on her blog that another school, the Eternity Christian Academy in Calcasieu Parish, will benefit from the voucher program. It now enrolls 14 students but has said it will take in 135 new students, a move that will result in some $1 million in taxpayer funds.

When news got out about some of the schools that would be receiving public voucher money, members of the state Senate called in Louisiana Superintendent John White to grill him about the voucher program, the News-Star reported.

During that session, White said the announcement about the schools that had qualified for the voucher program for the next school year was only preliminary — even though that wasn’t the way it was described earlier.

Meanwhile, a news release from the Louisiana Education Department announced that the Obama administration had granted a waiver to the state, relieving it from the most onerous mandates of No Child Left Behind, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. That news release said in part:

“The federal waivers allow districts and schools to exercise flexibility from federal ESEA regulations, in exchange for instituting rigorous accountability systems.”

All of this makes you wonder what Louisiana and the U.S. Education Department define as “rigorous accountability systems.”

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By  |  10:08 AM ET, 05/31/2012

 
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