Students attend choice schools through voucher program

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Hundreds of students around the state will again be enrolled at private and parochial schools for the 2013-2014 school year, paid for by the state.

In May, funding for the voucher program, also known as the Scholarship Program, was found to be unconstitutional. But lawmakers found another way to fund the program. For one Baton Rouge school, Hosanna Christian Academy, that's good news for more than half their student body.

School does not start at Hosanna until September 4, 2013. Until then, workers are busy making changes to the campus. Desks line the hallway of the secondary school building, it will soon be the new elementary school. Staff are in the process of swapping the elementary and secondary schools, to make room for an influx of younger students.

"We will probably be one of the larger schools and voucher participants in the state. We'll probably have about 500 scholarship students. 400 in elementary and 100 in 6-12 grade," said Josh LeSage, the headmaster of the school.

He says the total enrollment at Hosanna Christian Academy this year will be around 725 students. Almost 70 percent are students using vouchers. LeSage says they were scheduled to have more than 1,000 students total, of which 600 would have had vouchers. But that had to be scaled back, due to issues over space.

Last year, he says they had 280 students on the program.

Earlier this year the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the way the voucher program is funded is unconstitutional, saying the state constitution reads you can't use money earmarked for public schools to pay for private school tuition.

So, during this years session, lawmakers made a line item in the budget to fund the program using money from the general fund. According to a spokesman from the Department of Education, that legislature approved $45 million to fund the 2013-2014 scholarship program.

However because that funding is now a fixed amount of money, LeSage says that has affected how many students they can accept.

"Math dictates the more children you put in that pot, you dilute payments for existing children. So, I don't know about other schools, but for us we were not able to receive as many students as we wanted or that we could handle."

LeSage says of the applications that came in, close to 2,000 people marked Hosanna as their first choice school. He adds, no matter how they're paying every student will get a quality education.

The Louisiana Department of Education says so far this year they have received more than 8,000 voucher applications. That's compared to the 3,000 they received last year.

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