Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — While the state supreme court waits to rule on the legality of school vouchers, thousands of Louisiana parents are happy to take advantage of them.
Round one of the application process just ended, and the number of scholarships handed out rose dramatically.
Governor Bobby Jindal's office said 8,000 scholarships were awarded this week for the 2013-14, a 60 percent increase over the current school year.
“One of the most important things we have done to ensure the continued prosperity of our state and our people is to pass landmark reforms to make sure that every child has the opportunity to get a great education," Gov. Jindal said in a statement.
LaShaunda Pierre has a daughter in kindergarten at Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy . Thirty six of the 247 students enrolled there take part in the state's voucher program. She has already seen a big difference in her daughter, both in her abilities and her love of learning.
"The excitement that she has about reading, I know that that's something she has definitely gained from here," Pierre said.
Tuition at Jehovah-Jireh is lower than at many other private schools, ranging from $3,200-$5,000. But Pierre, an alumna, could not afford to send her daughter there without a scholarship.
She watched carefully as the program, known as Act 2, was debated in the courts.
"I was very nervous about that," she stated, "because the public school system, as we all know, is not all what we want it to be."
"We had many that inquired, you know, what could we do," said Glenda Colbert, the school's principal. "Was there any assistance that we could provide for them, or what would the fees and this sort of thing be? Because they wanted to keep their children here."
Colbert was happy to bring voucher students to her classrooms, but she was afraid the courts would end the program and return those children back to failing public schools.
"I did not want to be a part of that," she said. "I feel that life offers them enough disappointments as it is.
"My heart is to the community and to the, just that average kid that needs a good education."
Pierre wants her daughter to continue at Jehovah-Jireh for as long as the Louisiana Supreme Court will allow.
"And so receiving the letter (Tuesday) was, it put a big smile on my face," she said. "I was happy to see that."
Colbert said she is not interested in the politics surrounding the scholarship program. She claimed that her support is based on practical reasons.
"We've dealt with education long enough to know that there's a need," she stated. "If a child's need is being met, that's why we're in (education) to start with."
The governor's office said there were 4,000 families that applied, but did not get paired with schools. There will be a second round of applications starting on Monday, May 6, with more scholarships handed out the week of June 10.