School vouchers top education reform talks

by Heather Miller

Louisiana is one of only four states to offer publicly funded tuition to private and parochial schools.

When the Louisiana Legislature convenes in March, school vouchers, or diverting public funds to send low-income children to private schools, will likely be a big factor in Gov. Bobby Jindal's push for education reform.

According to The Advocate, a recent National Conference of State Legislatures report reveals that Louisiana is one of only four states (Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio) to offer vouchers, also noting that similar laws in other states have been struck down by the courts.

Washington, D.C., schools also offer vouchers, which are expected to be pushed for expansion in Louisiana this year:

Jindal, who says public school improvements will be his top priority this year, has repeatedly said that expanded school choice will be part of his plan, including a possible expansion of Louisiana's existing scholarship program.

That assistance, which stems from a 2008 law, only applies to 1,500 low-income students in New Orleans and a maximum of $10 million per year in state funds.

Teacher unions and other opponents call the aid "vouchers," and contend that diverting state tax dollars to private and parochial schools robs public schools of vital dollars.

Leaders of the state's two largest teacher unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, have vowed to oppose any effort to expand the current program.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Mongahan noted that a legal challenge is under way to the Indiana law, which won approval last year.

According to the NCSL tabulation, courts have already struck down scholarship/voucher laws in Arizona, Colorado and Florida.

Monaghan said whether any law that wins approval here is challenged in court depends on the scope of the measure.

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