Kopplin: State paying $11.6M to schools teaching creationism
Of the roughly 6,600 slots available for publicly funded private school tuition through the state’s new voucher program, 1,350 will be filled at private Christian schools that teach creationism and peg evolution as “false science.”
According to testimony from Baton Rouge’s Zack Kopplin, who spoke against the voucher program Tuesday at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting, the 1,350 students signing up for creationism classes will cost taxpayers $11.6 million next school year.
Kopplin, an 18-year-old Rice University student best known for his efforts during the last two legislative sessions to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, was one of several people who addressed BESE recently in opposition of the controversial voucher program, but it wasn’t enough to sway the majority of the state’s top school board. In a 9-2 vote Tuesday, BESE approved accountability guidelines set forth by state Education Superintendent John White for private schools participating in the voucher program, benchmarks that are far less stringent than those of public schools:
Unlike in public schools, passing or failing the tests in private schools will not be used to determine whether students advance to the next grade. But it will be used to grade the schools. White says that “allows for a common academic bar when parents make their decisions” on whether to switch from a public to a private school.
Opponents of the new system complained that it doesn’t really have any teeth because White has authority to waive every component, including restrictions on enrollment and curriculum. White disagreed, contending that the system does impose consequences for schools that do not perform academically or do not have appropriate accommodations for operating schools.
Donald Songy, representing the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said that under the new regulations, about 120 schools would receive vouchers, but only about 25 would be tested and only 16 would receive scores because of the numbers White set for testing.
[Louisiana Progress Director Melissa] Flournoy pointed out that a published BESE document says no school could increase its enrollment more than 20 percent and schools couldn’t increase tuition more than 20 percent. White said the regulations allow a 25 percent increase, or 50 students.
But documents released Tuesday show many schools are being allowed to go well beyond those limitations. Most noticeably is the New Living Word Church School near Ruston that more than doubled its enrollment with 165 voucher students.
In fact, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program has paved the way for at least nine Christian schools across the state to double their enrollment over last year, The Associated Press reports. White attributes those “exceptions” to “extraordinary cases,” such as high demand from parents.
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