The Louisiana Scholarship Program, which aims to serve low-income students in “low-performing” public schools, is the state’s first school voucher program. It was enacted and launched in 2008. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history and more.
Louisiana’s statewide voucher program is available to low-income students in low-performing public schools.
The voucher is equal to the lesser of 90 percent of the total state and local funding per student in the student’s home school district or the tuition charged by the private school. Schools accepting students using the voucher may not charge those students more than non-voucher students. Students requiring special educational services are eligible for additional voucher funds equal to the federal special education funding in their home districts.
Students are eligible if their family income is no more than 250 percent of the federal poverty line ($61,500 for a family of four in 2017–18) and they either (1) attended a public school designated as C, D, F or T in the previous year, (2) are entering kindergarten or (3) were enrolled at a public school in the Recovery School District. If more students apply than the program will allow, participation is determined by random lottery. If a particular private school is oversubscribed under the program, the state Department of Education must conduct a randomized lottery to award seats in that school. In that lottery, students from public schools rated D or F receive priority over students from public schools rated C. No more than 20 percent of students receiving scholarships for private schools in operation fewer than two years.
Louisiana’s voucher provides a significant level of funding, but it also has several serious design flaws in need of fixing. It is available to about one-third of students statewide, but still has a long way to go to serve all students. The program also falls short by imposing strict regulations on participating schools—regulations that have been shown to have discouraged a majority of private schools in the state from accepting vouchers. Schools must use an “open admissions process,” ceding control of their admissions processes to the state. Additionally, private schools must administer the state’s standardized test, and the Louisiana Department of Education is required to create an accountability system for participating private schools. The program would improve by not linking eligibility to public schools’ performance. Moreover, parents and their chosen schools, not the state, should determine what tests their children take.
La. Rev. Stat. §§ 17:4011 through 4025
In a 2-1 decision on November 11, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling that granted the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pre-clearance review of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), arguing that the lower court exceeded its scope of authority. In September 2014, the DOJ used a 1975 federal desegregation order, Brumfield v. Dodd, 405 F. Supp. 338 (E.D. La. 1975), to prohibit children in affected schools from participating in the voucher program on the purported grounds that they left the schools less integrated. The department was unable to produce evidence to support their claim, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals observed, “DOJ’s attempt to shoehorn its regulation of the voucher program into an entirely unrelated forty-year-old case represents more than ineffective lawyering.” The Court said DOJ attempted “to regulate the program without any legal judgment against the state.” The November 2015 ruling by the Fifth Circuit reversed this infringement on the LSP’s freedom. Brumfield v. La. State Bd. of Educ., 806 F.3d 289 (5th Cir. 2015).
In another legal challenge, teachers’ unions and others filed suit to stop Louisiana’s school voucher program from expanding statewide. In November 2012, Judge Timothy Kelley of the 19th Judicial Circuit, ruled the program’s funding method, through the constitutionally created Minimum Foundation Program, was unconstitutional. Voucher supporters appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court, during which time students remained in the program. On May 7, 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution’s Minimum Foundation Program cannot be used to pay tuition costs at nonpublic schools. The court declined to rule whether a voucher program funded through other means would be constitutional. In June 2013, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state legislature passed a budget that would fund, through general appropriations, the nearly 8,000 students approved for vouchers in the 2013–14 school year, and the voucher program continues to be funded. Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 118 So. 3d 1033 (La. 2013)