By STEPHANIE BANCHERO
Louisiana is poised to establish the nation's most expansive system of school choice by adopting a package of vouchers and other tools that would give many parents control over the use of tax dollars to educate their children.
The initiative would effectively redefine vouchers, which have typicallyhelped lower-income public-school students pay for private schools. Vouchers could now also be used by students to pay for state-approved apprenticeships at local businesses, as well as college courses and private online classes, while they are still in public schools.
The legislation would also pave the way for the rapid growth of charter schools—public schools run by nongovernment entities—and make Louisiana one of a handful of states to adopt a "parent trigger" provision, letting parents vote to convert their low-performing schools into charters. Louisiana's legislature passed the sweeping education package last week, and Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Republican architect of the overhaul, hopes to sign it into law next week, said a spokesman.
"This is about giving parents choice and about fostering competition across the education system," said John White, Louisiana's superintendent of education, who helped design the initiative. "We are trying to incentivize people outside the four walls of the school building to help us create a work force that can compete."
School vouchers are one of the most contentious issues in public education. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have either voucher systems or "scholarship" programs that provide tax benefits to individuals and businesses for contributions that help pay for students to attend private school. The vast majority of these programs are targeted at specific groups of at-risk students, such as low-income or those with special needs.
Proponents say vouchers provide options that parents need, especially in places with poor-performing schools, and save taxpayers money. Opponents, including teachers unions, counter that they siphon money from cash-strapped public schools—harming students who remain—and that they sometimes violate the separation of church and state, because they can be used for religious schools.
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