Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program
- Enacted 2008
- Launched 2008
The Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program (formerly known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program), which aims to serve low-income students in “low-performing” public schools, is the state’s first school voucher program. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history and more.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (2019–20)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (2019–20)
Average Voucher Value (2019-20)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Louisiana Scholarship Program Participation
The voucher is equal to the lesser of the total state allocation per student in the student’s home school district or the tuition charged by the private school. Schools that accept 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 ($65,500 for a family of four in 2020–21) and they either (1) attended a public school designated as C, D or F 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’s capacity and funding 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.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Louisiana’s voucher for low-income students helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students from families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($64,375 for a family of four in 2019–20) in areas that have low-performing district schools. About 33 percent of Louisiana students are eligible to receive a scholarship, but only 1.0 percent of students participate in one of Louisiana’s private educational choice options (including the Tuition Donation Credit Program and the School Choice Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities).
The average scholarship size is about $6,400, which is about 50 percent of the average expenditure per student at Louisiana’s district schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Louisiana policymakers should increase the voucher amounts to be comparable with the per-pupil spending at district schools and expand eligibility to all students. At the very least, eligibility should not be tied to the performance of district schools on standardized tests. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Louisiana’s voucher program has some unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. For example, the program requires voucher students in certain grades to take the state’s standardized test. Instead of mandating a single test, policymakers should allow parents and schools to choose from a variety of nationally norm-referenced tests. Policymakers should also amend the program so that it no longer interferes with schools’ admissions standards.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: 250 percent x Poverty
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: 100 percent of state allocation
- Testing Mandates: State
- Budget Cap: $41.9 million
- Be approved by the state to participate
- Comply with health and safety codes
- Not discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin
- Use an open admissions process when enrolling scholarship recipients
- Administer all Louisiana state examinations required under the school and district accountability system
- Receive a Scholarship Cohort Index of at least 50 to remain eligible to accept new students
- Submit to the state an annual independent financial audit conducted by a certified public accountant
- Conduct criminal background checks on all school employees
- Maintain a curriculum of quality at least equal to that prescribed for public schools
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, which had the effect of leaving the voucher program intact, but unfunded. Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 118 So. 3d 1033 (La. 2013)
After the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down the voucher’s funding mechanism, 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.
This case began when teachers’ unions and others filed suit to stop Louisiana’s New Orleans-focused school voucher program from expanding statewide. In November 2012, Judge Timothy Kelley of the 19th Judicial Circuit, ruled the program’s funding method, which used the constitutionally created Minimum Foundation Program, was unconstitutional. Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, No. 612.733 S. 22, 19th Jud. Dist. Ct, Parish of East Baton Rouge (November 30, 2012). Students remained in the program during appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
On November 11, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision 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. Brumfield v. La. State Bd. of Educ., 806 F.3d 289 (5th Cir. 2015)
The Department of Justice, in September 2014, 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.
Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
The Louisiana Federation for Children is affiliated with American Federation for Children. This organization seeks to empower families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K–12 education for their children.