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Louisiana's bold bid to privatize schools, Reuters, 6/1/12

posted Jun 2, 2012, 6:18 AM by Bill Duncan
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This is a thorough preview and summary of the Louisiana program to date.

Fri, Jun 1 2012

By Stephanie Simon

(Reuters) - Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.

The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.

Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding.

"We are changing the way we deliver education," said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. "We are letting parents decide what's best for their children, not government."

BIBLE-BASED MATH BOOKS

The concept of opening public schools to competition from the private sector has been widely promoted in recent years by well-funded education reform groups.

Of the plans so far put forward, Louisiana's plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

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(Additional reporting contributed by Kathy Finn in New Orleans; Editing by Lee Aitken and Prudence Crowther)
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