September 2013 Church & State | People & Events

 

Independent audits released over the summer showed that virtually all of the Louisiana schools accepting voucher students as part of a taxpayer-funded program are not in compliance with state reporting requirements.

Two studies uncovered that most of the 117 participating schools could not be audited because they did not have the required separate accounts. One review looked into 52 schools, and found that just two maintained separate accounts. Another investigation looked into 66 schools, many of which were repeats from the other study, and found that only one kept the mandated separate account. 

As the Associated Press (AP) noted, spending by just five schools participating in the program could actually be accounted for. Several schools also refused to answer questions about their accounting practices, the AP reported.

One of the few schools that was scrutinized, however, grabbed headlines. The New Living Word School in Ruston, the audits revealed, overcharged the state by quite a bit. The AP said that for 2012-2013 the Christian academy charged the state $6,300 for each of its 93 voucher students but charged just $530 per person for its 109 non-voucher students.

It seems not much of that money was actually being used for education. Robert Mann, a professor at Louisiana State University, said in a column for the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the school doesn’t have enough computers, has no real classrooms and employs uncertified teachers who simply stick students in front of DVDs for instruction. One of the audits also showed New Living Word was funneling money to its sponsoring church, handing over $40,235 to the sectarian organization for facilities costs and bus rentals.

All told, the school has received $600,000 from the state of Louisiana and overcharged by $378,000, which it has been told to return. The school has also been expelled from the voucher program.

New Living Word Principal Jerry Baldwin, who is also the pastor of the church, told the AP, “The findings are wrong. They’re absurd. They’re ridiculous. They’re illogical. And we don’t agree with them at all.”

But blogger Lamar White Jr., a law student at Southern Methodist University, saw the irony in the situation: White pointed out that the school wouldn’t have been caught if it had just skirted the rules like most of the other participants in the voucher program.

“The only reason that New Living Word School got ‘caught’ misappropriating funds is because it was one of the two schools that actually used a separate account for its voucher money,” he wrote on his cenlamar. ­com blog.