Catholic schools limited in voucher capacity

by Heather Miller

Louisiana's Catholic schools, which comprise two thirds of all private schools in the state, can take in roughly 1,000 students, or less than 1 percent, of the children who would be eligible for private tuition scholarships' under Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed expansion of the New Orleans voucher program.

The number of students Catholic schools estimate they can take in under Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal to drastically expand the New Orleans private school voucher program is less than 1 percent of the children who would be eligible for public money to fund private school tuitions.

According to an Associated Press report published on The [Alexandria] Town Talk's website, an official with the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops says out of the 380,000 students who could be eligible for vouchers under Jindal's proposal, the state's Catholic schools are ready for about 1,000 of them.

Responding to concerns about vouchers and their potential to gut public school districts of critical funding, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry education lobbyist Brigette Nieland tells AP that the majority of eligible voucher students won't "flee [from public schools overnight." In the same breath, she deals a low blow to the voucher opposition camp and calls the concerns "union scare tactics:"

That limited capacity raises questions about why the Republican governor is pushing so hard for the legislation, whether it could make a difference and whether opponents are overreacting when predicting a voucher program could destroy public school funding.

Danny Loar, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Tuesday that the numbers are based on his conversations with superintendents of the Catholic schools around the state. The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the voucher proposal.

The Jindal administration estimates about 380,000 of the 690,000 students in Louisiana public schools, or 54 percent, could be eligible under the criteria. The legislation hasn't been filed to offer the full details of the proposal, but the governor said the statewide program would expand an existing $9 million voucher program in New Orleans that has more than 1,800 students.

Nieland, an education lobbyist for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which supports vouchers, said it will be difficult to determine the true capacity that will be available for students in private and parochial schools until the proposal is passed and existing schools decide whether they want to participate. Also, she said some communities that don't have private schools might decide they want to start one.

Read the full story here.

For more on the voucher program, read The Independent's Feb. 8 investigation and analysis, "Incomplete."