Questions raised over state's voucher program by Legislative Auditor

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POSTED: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 7:44pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 3:11pm

A close look at the state’s close to $45 million scholarship program has the Legislative Auditor’s office giving tips to the Department of Education.

"That’s why we're recommending that you improve the criteria. Let’s do a better job of screening these schools on the front end from both an academic and physical capacity," explained Daryl Purpera, Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

Purpera explained that public and private schools are being held to different standards. Private schools still take standardized tests and are expected to meet certain benchmarks, but are not graded on an ‘A – F’ scale, meaning some scholarship schools may not be up to par.

"Just because we move them into a scholarship position in a private school or non-public school does not necessarily mean they're getting a better education," said Purpera.

Josh LeSage with Hosana Christian Academy said that is not the way he sees it.
He points to the fact that private voucher schools have to meet academic standards for the first two years or be barred from taking new students.

"There is not a public school in the state of Louisiana that can not enroll new students if they don't meet certain benchmarks. And there's not a public school in Louisiana that can be shut down or not receive public funds at all if they get too low," said LeSage.

State superintendent John White released a statement about the findings saying,

“The audit confirms that in the scholarship program's first year, the state implemented the program according to the law. Most important, the program immediately offered thousands of low-income families a choice in where to send their children to school,” state White in a statement released to NBC33.

Purpera said he would not be surprised to see legislators take up the issue in the upcoming session.

"Since the department has not made formal criteria, the legislature might want to step in and institute a legislatively formal criteria system to make sure these students are participating in a program that's going to give them adequate education," said Purpera.

The upcoming legislative session starts on March 10th.

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