Applications for tuition vouchers increase

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's Department of Education has received 11,800 applications for state-funded private school tuition, with interest in the voucher program growing larger, Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

About 10,000 parents applied last year for their children to attend private and parochial schools with tax dollars, the first year the voucher program was statewide after being piloted in New Orleans.

Increased interest comes despite a judge's ruling that the voucher program as currently funded violates the state constitution by using dollars from the public school funding formula. A state Supreme Court ruling in that case is pending.

"Interest in the student scholarship program continues to expand," White said. "In spite of all efforts to try and stop this program, the will of parents is not going to be stopped."

Far fewer students than those who apply for vouchers get the tuition payments, because of limited slots in private schools. For example, of the 10,000 applications submitted last year, about 4,800 students are enrolled in the voucher program in the current 2012-13 school year.

White said the first round of student assignments will be made in mid-April. If applicants for a school exceed the number of voucher slots available, the slots will be awarded through a lottery.

"We now need to go back and look at the applications to begin making matches," he said.

The number of voucher students is expected to grow because White said 134 schools likely will participate in the program for the 2013-14 school year, up from 118 currently. One school is a high-performing public school in Opelousas that takes voucher students.

The taxpayer-financed tuition at private and parochial schools is available to students from low- to moderate-income families who otherwise would attend public schools graded with a C, D or F by the state. Priority is for students in D- and F-rated schools.

The voucher program costs about $22 million this year, White said.

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