Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Written by Walter Pierce
The tally of private schools approved by the state Department of Education to accept voucher students reads like a who’s-who of who’s-that; one sees few big brand names — no St. Thomas Mores or John Curtises. Evangel, a football powerhouse in Shreveport, jumps out, but the vast majority is overwhelmingly small, Christian schools — evangelical mostly along with a fair number of Roman Catholic schools — tiny operations with fewer than 100 students, although one school approved for 38 voucher students stands out: the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans. (I can’t believe some Islamaphobic lawmaker isn’t raising the Sharia specter, but there’s still time.)
Most appear to be tied to evangelical churches with names like Eternity Christian Academy, Old Bethel Christian Academy and Boutte Christian Academy. In fact, “Christian” and “academy” dominate the nomenclature.
A pattern emerges, and as the public and lawmakers digest the list and the media report on it, a theme emerges, too: The Louisiana Scholarship Program is a cash cow for small, financially strapped schools, running a bee line along their bottom line from red to black.
We see it most notoriously in the case of New Living Word School in Ruston, a 122-student facility operating out of an eponymous church in the piney woods of north Louisiana. (The principal/pastor, as this newspaper was the first to point out, is former UL head football coach Jerry Baldwin, who won six games in three seasons, was appropriately canned and still has a racial discrimination suit pending against the university.)
New Living Word was approved for an additional 315 students, the most of any school although it doesn’t have the teachers, the classroom space or the technology to accommodate the new enrollment. Baldwin has said construction will soon be under way on additional space, but admitted to a reporter that the school is moving forward “on faith.”
|Not only are we siphoning money out of public schools and into parochial schools, but we also seem to be doing it with very little vetting of these schools.|
We reported a couple weeks ago on John Paul the Great Academy, one of just five schools in Lafayette Parish to apply for voucher students. Days after the small, lay-run Catholic school appeared on the DOE voucher list — JPGA has been approved for 64 students — the school’s headmaster sent out a plea to supporters, revealing that the school needs to raise $1 million to avoid being evicted from its campus. It’s hard not to infer that the school’s willingness to take voucher students is tied to its financial hardships.
The most brazen example is Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake. The school has been approved to accept 135 new students. That’s a considerable uptick in enrollment, which at the end of this school year stood at 38 — a more than 300 percent increase. Talk about buttressing the budget; $1 million in tax dollars will be diverted from the public school system to Eternity Christian, a school that, according to its mission statement, offers “a quality faith-based curriculum that is soley [sic] based on principles from the Bible ...”
The Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy in Baton Rouge, which has been approved to accept 30 voucher kids, proclaims it “is now a [sic] official SAT test site.”
I guess spelling and grammar aren’t big focuses at these schools.
This is madness. Not only are we siphoning money out of public schools and into parochial schools, but we also seem to be doing it with very little vetting of these schools.
None of the schools was apparently visited by a DOE rep after applying to accept voucher students; contact was made by phone.
Grilled by lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle last week, state Superintendent John White appeared to crawfish, saying the approvals were preliminary and the schools on the list would be subject to “due diligence.” Yet the DOE email informing schools they had been approved made no mention of the approval being preliminary.
Let’s hope White is genuine and the department closely examines these schools, because as it stands the only vouch in voucher is coming from the schools, many of them no doubt financially stressed and none of them required by the state to hire certified teachers, accept special-needs children or offer 21st century technology. You know, the stuff demanded of public schools.
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