It seems that every objective report on Louisiana’s ever-expanding school voucher program exposes serious problems, and the latest audits are no exception.
A federal report released before Christmas by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said Louisiana’s voucher program has increased segregation in at least 15 public schools. According to the report, those schools would have been more racially integrated had some students not left because they received vouchers.
For example, one unnamed school would have been comprised of 66.5 percent black students normally, but instead has 68.1 percent black students thanks to vouchers.
Overall, the report showed black students with vouchers tended to leave schools that are mostly black and end up in schools that are mostly black. By contrast, white students who received vouchers were placed in schools that are almost entirely white after leaving schools that were more racially balanced.
"White students leave schools with considerable white and black diversity to attend overwhelmingly white schools, on average, while black students typically remain in school environments that are largely black," the report says.
Even private school vouchers, which the program offers, did nothing to alleviate the segregation problem.
“The majority of black voucher recipient students (more than 62 percent) are assigned to private schools that are 90-100 percent black,” the report says. “The reverse pattern is seen for white voucher recipients. More than 40 percent of white recipients are assigned to private schools that are 90-100 percent white, whereas just 5.5 percent are assigned to 90-100 percent black private schools.”
This is a big deal because 34 of the state’s school districts are still under federal court orders to desegregate.
Another audit turned up equally troubling news. Early this month, a report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office found the state’s voucher program lacks standards to ensure that schools spend voucher money the way they’re supposed to and that they actually educate their students.
Among the report’s findings:
- five schools sought vouchers for children whose household income was beyond the allowable limit, while four other schools were unable to document income for some students’ families;
- nearly one-third of schools overcharged the state by demanding more money from voucher students than non-voucher students;
- ten schools either had the wrong home address for voucher students or couldn’t provide their home address, which matters because the amount of money a student receives depends partly on where he or she lives; and
- just six of the schools participating in the voucher program provided special education services, and three of those improperly documented the services provided, meaning they possibly overcharged the state.
In conclusion, the report offered the completely reasonable proposal that the state should “develop formal criteria for determining whether participating schools have both the academic and physical capacity to serve the number of scholarship students they request.”
How many problems have to be exposed before Louisiana’s voucher scheme is finally shut down?
As far as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is concerned, it seems no number of flaws could ever make him abandon this “school choice” scheme. He already rejected the DOJ report’s findings as insignificant.
“The Department’s report shows that in 15 public schools, just one percent of the state’s total, the racial composition of the student body may have changed by a minuscule amount,” he said in a statement. “Never mind that nearly 7,000 low-income, mostly minority students are now learning in the school of their families' choosing thanks to this program.”
Those comments ignored the problem, which seems to be what Jindal does every time vouchers are criticized. No increases in school segregation should be acceptable, but to Jindal that’s just collateral damage.
There is some good news. Although DOJ has said it will not pursue a lawsuit alleging that the voucher ploy has hindered federal court orders to desegregate the Pelican State’s schools, Louisiana’s voucher program isn’t off the hook. In November, a federal judge said Louisiana must work with DOJ to monitor its voucher program more closely. Let’s hope that the increased scrutiny will eventually be enough to end this poor policy once and for all.