Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs

Part 84 of 84 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

A Louisiana bill could help students switch from one scholarship program to another.

A Louisiana bill could help the state’s school choice programs run more smoothly. If it passes, students receiving scholarships under one program would be given preference if they want to switch to a different program.

One of Louisiana’s programs allows low-income students in C, D, or F schools to receive a state-funded voucher, allowing them to attend a private school. Another program allows low-income students at any school to receive a scholarship, funded through incentivized private donations, to attend a private school.

Schools participating in the voucher program are not permitted to have a selective admissions process, but schools participating in the Tuition Donation Rebate program are.

The bill would allow voucher students to have preference for the TDR program if they wish to transfer — if their families move to a district with an A or B school, for example, or if they want to attend a selective high school. This way, students wouldn’t have to apply to the TDR program or risk losing their funding.

According to the Friedman Foundation, 126 schools participate in the voucher program, but only four participate in the TDR program.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kirk Talbot, could encourage more schools to participate in the TDR program, said Stephanie Malin, communications associate for Louisiana Federation for Children, a project of the American Federation for Children.

“The only choice you really have in Louisiana, especially if you’re low-income and want to go to a public school, is your mailbox. Whatever your address is on your mailbox is where you go,” Talbot said. “When the state issues food stamps, we don’t say, ‘You gotta go to the grocery store closest to your mailbox.’ We didn’t start state-run grocery stores. We give them a food stamp and tell them to go wherever they want to go. (School choice) finally empowers low-income parents to have a choice in where their kids go to school.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.