State of the States
Private Schools Would be Tested
Under Gov. Foster's Voucher Plan
Gov. Mike Foster outlined two proposals to build on Louisiana's accountability system during his annual address to the legislature: a pilot voucher program and state management of low-performing schools.
The voucher initiative would target students who attend low-performing public schools. It would require participating private schools over time to take part in state tests and receive school performance scores as public schools do. But the private schools would not face other portions of the state accountability system.
"In education, let's talk about some things that are going to cause a little stir," said Mr. Foster, a Republican who is in the last year of his two terms in office. "I can't imagine how you or I can leave this session and say we don't have a plan for failing schools."
The idea of roping private schools into even a portion of the accountability system, however, has spurred opposition from some private school leaders in the state, especially from Roman Catholic schools, who support an alternative voucher plan now before the legislature and which would not mandate testing.
Meanwhile, some public education groups, such as the Louisiana School Boards Association, have said they will strongly resist any voucher plans.
Gov. Foster said that if a school has performed poorly over time despite efforts to help the school, other options ought to be considered. "Vouchers are one way out of that," he said in the March 31 speech.
Idea for Intervention
The governor also put forward another idea: state management of low-performing schools through the creation of a so-called Recovery School District to be operated by the Louisiana education department. Under the plan, state management would occur for a limited time.
"If you've got a better idea, have at it," Mr. Foster challenged lawmakers. "I think we'll have committed a sin if we leave here and we leave youngsters in failing schools where they cannot get out."
He also proposed a modest package of measures to help address school discipline, including increased public awareness of laws already on the books and suspending or delaying driver's licenses for students with discipline problems.
Mr. Foster spent considerable time in his speech promoting the need to protect school aid, and he pointed to what he believes were some of the results of the state's prior spending on schools, as well as its accountability system, such as improved test scores.
"Continued investments in education and economic development, particularly, will continue to bring our citizens into the mainstream of full productivity," he argued.
In February, the governor put forward a budget request for fiscal 2004 that would provide a slight increase in K-12 education spending, raising it from $2.69 billion this year to $2.73 billion, a hike of 1.5 percent.
Analysts say it will be a difficult budget year, though, because Louisiana, like many states, is facing a budget shortfall. Recent estimates place it at least $500 million, out of a budget of about $16 billion.
Vol. 22, Issue 30, Page 25