We will continue to update this post with new information as it becomes available.
Story updated Friday, May 10, 2019
The Fox 8 report, “The Cost of Choice”, spent months scrutinizing nearly a decade of public records, looking for every piece of available data and every complaint about the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a private school scholarship program for lower-income students who were previously attending struggling public schools.
The story on May 7th places nearly all emphasis on the results of a single exam administered by the state of Louisiana, while downplaying the holistic education provided by participating private schools. The report gave little attention to the fact that parents include factors such as safety, school culture, and proximity to their home in the decision-making process that led them to leave their previously underperforming public schools for a private school that would better fit their child’s individual needs. Numerous parental satisfaction surveys for scholarship students show that more than 90% are satisfied or very satisfied with their child’s private school. And the scholarship program has rigorous accountability for private schools.
Meanwhile, the story left out the fact that lower income families in private schools have made double digit jumps in performance in the first four years of the program. According to the Louisiana Department of Education, in the first year of the scholarship program, only 7% of scholarship kids were at “Mastery” in English and Math on the state exam. By the 2017 school year, 23% of lower-income scholarship students were at Mastery – tripling the number of students at Mastery. At the “Basic” level, lower-income scholarship students closed the 26-point gap in performance on the state exam between the average of all public school students in Louisiana. And 60% of lower-income scholarship students have enrolled in college.
Source, Louisiana Department of Education
Reporters from Fox 8, The Times-Picayune/NOLA.comand WWNO-FMare using their journalistic platforms to question not only the choices parents have made regarding the education of their children, but questions that also depreciate the ability of parents to make an informed decision.
FACT: 100% of Students Participating in the Scholarship Program are from Lower-Income Families, and Many Attended Underperforming Public Schools
The impact of the Louisiana Scholarship Program extends far beyond the standardized test scores of the 7,000 participating students. Participants are required to be entering kindergarten or enrolled in a C, D or F-rated public school. All participants are from lower-income families with household income that does not exceed 250% of federal poverty guidelines.
Schools participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program are rated on the performance of only their scholarship program students on the state assessment (which likely does not align with the curriculum of the private schools), not the private school’s entire student body. So, when a reporter approaches parents in carpool lines at their child’s school saying, “Do you know what your school is rated?” – that is an entirely misleading question. The accurate phrasing should be, “Do you know what the performance is of lower-income scholarship students, who previously attended struggling public schools they chose to leave, ranked in comparison to the performance of all public students in Louisiana?”
FACT: There are 328 D and F-rated schools statewide, and 28 are in New Orleans
Tens of thousands of students are currently enrolled in hundreds of underperforming public schools, and a few thousand parents have chosen to enter into a private school that they can see is serving their students better.
While large strides have been made in improving Louisiana’s education landscape since Hurricane Katrina, much work remains. Today, there are 328 D and F-rated public schools statewide. A recent survey by the Louisiana Department of Education shows one in three teachers at F-rated public schools in Louisiana is either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise. Parents assigned to these schools deserve better – and at bare minimum, deserve options that include private schools.
The story highlighted the example of seven children leaving KIPP Believe charter school to enroll at a scholarship program school – again questioning a parent’s ability to make an informed decision. The reporting fails to include the fact that any Louisiana Scholarship Program participant can choose to return to a public school if families deem the private school is not meeting their child’s needs.
FACT: 60 percent of Lower-Income Scholarship Students Have Entered College
The performance of Louisiana Scholarship Program students on the state LEAP exam is indicative of the challenges schools face when having to serve both scholarship students with achievement gaps and the traditional private school student.
Even with these challenges, an April 2019 University of Arkansas study of the effect of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on college entrance found that 60 percent of Louisiana Scholarship Program students enter college.
- Source: University of Arkansas: The Effect of The Louisiana Scholarship Program on College Entrance
Researchers indicate the disconnect between achievement on the state’s standardized test and college enrollment could be a result of public and private schools having different goals. They pointed to a lack of alignment of private school curricula with the Louisiana state exam standards rather than true negative impacts of Louisiana Scholarship Program schools on student achievement.
A popular refrain from reformers who dislike standardized tests, like the LEAP exam, has been “schools should not teach to the test.”
Should participating private schools align their curriculum and teach to the state exam or continue to provide a unique whole student curriculum that places an emphasis on academic, social, emotional, and character development?
FACT: Louisiana Scholarship Program Has The Nation’s Most Rigorous Accountability System of Any Private School Choice Program
Accountability and transparency in school choice programs, including the Louisiana Scholarship Program, is critical to ensuring that parents and the public are informed about students’ progress, particularly since most students entering school choice programs start out academically behind their peers. We welcome longitudinal evaluations that provide insights into how students are progressing.
- The accountability system is the strongest in the nation and after the onset of the initial two-year period, schools can be sanctioned on an annual basis for lack of student performance. Charter schools are given three years before being closed. Traditional schools can underperform for years without any real consequences other than lower School Performance Scores.
- Scholarship students require extra testing to meet the state requirement of taking the same state assessment as public school students regardless of curriculum alignment. This parameter was not in the original bill design. It was added by legislators throughout the process in 2012.
- State law prohibits any new schools from opening to serve specific scholarship students because, in order to prohibit fly by night schools, the legislature only allowed 20 percent of students enrolled in the Louisiana Scholarship Program to attend a new school for the first two years it is open. Therefore, high performing schools recruited to Louisiana to specifically serve scholarship students must wait two years until they can serve 100 percent scholarship students.
- Most importantly – parent accountability in the school choice program means that any family can leave their chosen private school if they feel it is not meeting the needs of their child.
Of course, schools can always do better to serve the families that rely on the Louisiana Scholarship Program, but the state should accurately measure and discuss how schools are addressing the profound academic deficits students bring with them after having attended underperforming public schools.
FACT: Scholarship Program Parents Overwhelmingly Approve of their Child’s School
The story made a point of painting scholarship program parents as not being knowledgeable about the schools their children attend. Parents may not know the exact letter grade of their school, but they know the school is meeting their children’s unique needs. Luckily, the story showed one parent who said she liked her child’s school.
And how else do we know this to be true? We asked parents, and they told us.
The most recent survey of parents participating in the program found that 96.7 percent are happy with their child’s academic progress and 92.5 percent of parents are satisfied or very satisfied with their child’s Scholarship Program school.
Nearly 100 percent of parents gave the program high marks for school safety and a welcoming environment.
- 99.2% said their children feel safe in their Louisiana Scholarship Program school.
- 99.1% said their children feel welcomed at their Louisiana Scholarship Program school.
Parents have told us clearly that they approve of the Louisiana Scholarship Program and recognize that their scholarship program school is more than its test score. They see the improvement in their children and appreciate the school’s focus on whole student education.
- Source: Louisiana Federation for Children: Louisiana Scholarship Program Parental Satisfaction Survey
Last year, more than 10,000 parents applied to the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Why? They were seeking an alternative to sending their children to what are often failing public schools.
FACT: Why the state does not assign letter grades for schools participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program.
Letter grades cannot be assigned to schools based on the performance of a subset of students. Student performance is documented in the school’s Scholarship Cohort Index.
FACT: The difference between the Louisiana Scholarship Program and charter school applications.
Louisiana Scholarship Program schools were vetted and approved by Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). In order to receive state and federal funding, nonpublic schools in Louisiana must be approved by BESE and be compliant with the nondiscrimination requirements of Brumfield vs. Dodd. The nonpublic school approval process is intended to confirm that schools utilize “a curriculum of quality at least equal to that prescribed for similar public schools,” as required by the Louisiana Constitution.
All schools that seek to enroll new or continuing scholarship students during the upcoming school year (even if they do not intend to accept new students) are required to submit an annual Notice of Intent to participate. This is the “application” shown in the story.
Bottom line: Private schools that participate in the Louisiana Scholarship Program have been in existence and educating students in their community before applying to participate in the program.
Charter school applicants are start-up organizations. This is their first application to their state or local authorizer.
Who Was “The Expert”?
Andre Perry, the “expert” featured in the story is described as a Louisiana education activist and a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. He is the former CEO of Capital One-University of New Orleans Charter Network (now New Beginnings Charter School Network).
Perry led the Capital One-University of New Orleans Charter Network (now New Beginnings). Today the network struggles with schools rated C (Kennedy HS), D (Capdau Elementary) & F (Nelson Elementary). The F-rated Nelson has been ordered closed by its authorizer, the Orleans Parish School Board.