Private school choice AND quality control

Louisiana has shown us that it’s possible to offer private-school choice and control for quality in a way that doesn’t cramp what makes a private school unique.

And in doing so, Louisiana is among rare company in school-voucher policy. While other states have made voucher and tax credit scholarship programs more transparent, Louisiana joins only Indiana in an attempt to regulate enrollment at schools that consistently show poor performance.

Other states should take notice of what is a sensible plan for voucher accountability.

Other states should take notice of what is a sensible plan for voucher accountability.

Under the proposal submitted today to the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, private schools that enroll an average of ten voucher students per grade or more than forty in grades that are tested will be assessed points under a scoring system similar to one administered to public schools. Once in the voucher program, if these private schools score below fifty out of 150 points in their second year of participation, or in any year thereafter, they won’t be able to enroll scholarship students for the following school year.

Additionally, schools that have been in the program for at least four years and score below a fifty for the majority of the time they have been assessed won’t be able to enroll new voucher students until they raise their score above fifty and pass a quality review by the Department of Education.

These regulations are based on the concept that private schools enrolling larger number of publicly funded students should be subject to greater public transparency and accountability than schools enrolling fewer. Under the Louisiana plan, private schools averaging fewer than ten voucher students per grade or enrolling fewer than forty in tested grades would still have to administer the same standardized test given at public schools, but they wouldn’t face the public scrutiny of a point system (This is similar to the sliding-scale of accountability in voucher programs that my Fordham colleagues outlined three years ago, and one which we urged Louisiana to adopt).

Voucher critics may argue that any private school receiving a dollar of public money should be treated like public schools that receive letter grades. This is an unreasonable position that supposes that private schools enrolling one voucher-bearing student should be treated like those that enroll 100 or 1,000. Moreover, state Superintendent John White didn’t develop these thresholds arbitrarily; ten students per grade is the threshold at which the state reports student outcomes in public schools.

But most importantly, this is a common-sense approach to accountability that other states should consider if they want to make their voucher programs more politically sustainable.

UPDATE (4:50 p.m. EDT, 7/24/12): The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the proposed voucher accountability rules at its meeting today, without amending anything.

CORRECTION (10:00 a.m. EDT, 9/6/12): A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Louisiana was the only state that regulated enrollment at poorly performing private schools accepting voucher students. The Indiana legislature adopted similar regulations last year.

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