St, Mary's, in eastern New Orleans, is among schools accepting public school students under the new voucher program.

About 2,300 New Orleans public school students have been offered slots in private schools under the state’s voucher program, leaving about 5,500 spots still available at schools across the state, the Louisiana Department of Education announced today.

The department unveiled the list of private schools slated to accept those students today, as well as other schools across 33 parishes available this fall for students outside of New Orleans participating in the voucher program, officially known as Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence.

Legislators in early April approved a statewide launch of the program, which was originally a pilot program limited to New Orleans. Though the law was originally written so that low-income students at failing schools could attend the private or high-performing public schools of their choice, it’s the private school provision that has drawn  the most attention in the past few months. Critics have said that funding private schools with public dollars raises constitutional issues.

Proponents, however, have said that the dollars should follow the student.

Of the 125 schools students can choose from, only one, Park Vista School in St. Landry Parish, is a public school.

State superintendent of education John White says he believes more public schools will participate as the program grows.

“This is a promising start for a program that will provide thousands of options for Louisiana families now, and increasingly in the future,” he said.

White said that schools in New Orleans have made “tremendous” academic gains with scholarship students in recent years, and that he anticipates more academic success when results are announced from this year’s standardized tests. Private schools enrolled in the program are mandated by state law to give vouchered students the standardized tests administered in public schools, so the state can track progress uniformly.

State law says that schools with fewer than 10 vouchered students must not publicly release test data, in order to protect the identity of the students. White said the department will follow these rules when releasing data on outcomes.

It’s not yet clear what accountability measures White will impose on private schools that accept vouchers. State law mandates that he come up with clear measures for accountability on or before August 1, but doesn’t offer guidance on how to do so.

State lawmakers have clamored for White to develop ways to remove from the voucher program schools with chronically low scores on standardized tests.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...