State Superintendent John White’s estimate that a few thousand low-income students will opt to attend private schools next year on the public’s dime will be put to the test this week, as the state Department of Education is expected to release a full list of private schools statewide that have applied to participate in the program.

The Times-Picayune reports that the deadline was Friday for private schools to apply for participation in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, one of the key pieces to the governor’s controversial education reform package that sailed through the Legislature this session. LDOE spokeswoman Rene Greer says the list of participating private schools will likely be released by Tuesday.

The voucher program is available for about 380,000 Louisiana students attending C,D or F rated public schools whose families meet certain income requirements. White, however, gave early estimates when discussing the program with the Legislature that pegged the number of students participating in the inaugural year as closer to a few thousand. Students who qualify for private school vouchers can also cross district lines and transfer to a top-rated public school, though according to The Times-Pic, the majority of the voucher slots will be filled by Catholic schools:
The actual number of available voucher spots will be determined in the coming days as state Department of Education officials sift through applications from private schools and, possibly, from public schools rated an A or B.

A key provision of the new law is that participation in the program is entirely voluntary for private schools and top-rated public schools. They ask to participate, and they determine the number of voucher students they are willing to accept.
The Independent contacted several private schools in Lafayette Parish late last week to gauge the level of local participation in the governor’s statewide program. Of the five schools that responded to The Ind’s inquiries, only one confirmed that it plans to participate.

Pope John Paul the Great Academy, a five-year-old Catholic school in north Lafayette housed at the De La Salle Christian Brothers campus on Carmel Drive, has applied to participate in the voucher program and will make 48 voucher slots available if approved.

“As a Catholic school, we know well that the nation’s public school system is based on the Catholic education system, so we are proud to participate,” says Pope John Paul Academy President and Headmaster Kevin Roberts.

It remains unclear whether the 48 slots are open for all grade levels and whether the school is equipped to handle disabled students. In the New Orleans voucher program that served as a pilot for Jindal’s statewide voucher launch, only two out of roughly 1,800 voucher students are labeled special needs students.

Pope John Paul Academy’s high school curriculum, which includes the completion of 30 credit hours and a senior capstone thesis, exceeds the state’s standards for obtaining a diploma, according to its website. Four out of the nine male graduates of Pope John Paul the Great Academy are seminarians, the school’s website reports.

Lafayette’s two largest Catholic high schools, Teurlings and St. Thomas More, will not have voucher slots available next year. Administrators at both schools say they don’t have the space and also note that both high schools already have waiting lists for enrollment.

St. Genevieve Catholic Elementary School is also full for next year and will not be accepting voucher students.

When contacted by phone, an administrator with First Baptist Christian School told The Ind that the school would not be participating.

“No comment. We’re just not going to participate,” she said.

Read more coverage from The Independent on Jindal’s voucher program here and here.

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