BESE approves grading system for voucher schools

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted Tuesday on a grading system for schools that accept voucher students. The proposed accountability plan was approved with a vote of 9-2.

While some support Sate Superintendent John White's plan, BESE also got a noticeable negative response from the public, most former or current educators.

White boasted proudly about his plan to keep private and parochial schools in line with the state's ideas to help students succeed.

"It sets a common bar for academic accountability across traditional public, charter public and now public schools participating in this program and swift consequences," White said.

White's plan creates criteria for students to achieve, holds schools responsible for helping them reach those goals, and makes sure public dollars fund only students participating in the new scholarship program.

One hundred and twenty schools across the state are part of what is called known as the voucher program.

White said parents and the public will know how the 5,637 scholarship students in the state are performing. If they do not meet state standards, BESE can require an audit.

Scholarship students at schools accepting 40 or more vouchers will be required to maintain a score of 50, the equivalent of a "D" letter grade. That score is referred to as the school's Scholarship Index Score, which is similar to a School Performance Score.

White said the individual schools will decide whether their voucher students will take the standard LEAP test, or a revised version.

"You've applied common sense goals to give students the opportunity to pick a school that's right for them while weeding out the bad actors," Kevin Mooney said.

What was presented as a simple way to keep participating schools on the same track did not sit well with some dozen educators and lawmakers who spoke before the board.

While many agreed the voucher program sets the framework for what could be a successful program, they believe it should first be implemented as pilot, not a permanent plan.

"At the end of the day we don't get a lot of information about whether the scholarship program works or not," former Ascension Parish Schools Supt. Donald Songy said.

"I am concerned in efforts to do things fast, we are failing to do the right thing," Melissa Flournoy said.

"I am very concerned that we are going to again see ourselves bitten in the butt," State Rep. Patricia Smith said.

A total of 9,744 applications have been submitted. A little more than half were awarded for the 2012-2013 school year.

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