Louisiana Superintendent John White, the public face of the state’s massive and much-maligned school voucher system, has been hammered both locally and nationally for his announced slate of school standards. Editorials, educators, and legislators have criticized the program, and the latest news — St. John the Baptist parish (the equivalent of a county) announced on Tuesday it could lose up to $2 million due to the program — only serves to emphasize the controversy.
In an attempt to assuage criticism, White said his department would finally release documents detailing the vetting process that the 119 voucher schools — 99 percent of which are religious — endured prior to their approval. He won’t, however, release the documents until September — one month after many of the students have begun studying at their new schools.
Claiming “a deliberative process privilege,” White’s department was able to delay the release. Department of Education officials claimed that the documents in question — namely, those that displayed the measures taken to judge which schools would receive the 5,600 approved voucher students — were not matters of public record.
The Associated Press filed an initial request for the documents nearly ten weeks ago, but DOE spokesperson Barry Landry informed reporters that the documents would be withheld because the department carried a concern in “providing outdated information that may cause confusion to parents who are trying to make decisions around their participation in the program.”
James Gill, columnist with New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, noted that he believes the approved schools likely received little to no vetting whatsoever. “Evidently the Louisiana education department hasn’t heard that ‘Don’t confuse them with the facts’ is supposed to be a joke,” wrote Gill.
Gill also noted that another DOE spokesperson, who had cited a desire to avoid “ridicule or criticism” as the impetus for withholding the documents, was effectively rebutted by White’s willingness to open the documents in September.
Indeed, criticism of the voucher system — which the Louisiana Supreme Court failed to block last Thursday — seems likely to increase once the documents are released. After initial tales of schools teaching antediluvian creationism and methods for preparing for the Rapture — including at least one school that discriminates based on religion and sexual orientation — it was reported that the Light City Christian Academy, located in New Orleans, had been approved for 80 students this fall, raking approximately $364,000 in state funds.
The school is not the only Christian institution that will be receiving state monies, but it is, thus far, the only one helmed by a man who says he “wears the mantle of an Apostle and Prophet.” Apostle Leonard Lucas, a one-term state representative, has been the subject of recent profilings for his charitable ventures, many of which are listed as “Not in Good Standing” by the Louisiana Secretary of State.
Should Light City meet the minimum voucher standards over the first year — that is, if they receive at least a state-issued grade of D-minus — they are eligible for an additional 83 students, which, if granted, would jump the K-12 school’s size approximately 400 percent from its 2011-12 total.
White has hinted that he may begin tightening standards going forward, especially in regards to schools approved in the future. However, there’s no indication that there will be any further action taken in stemming the flow of public funds to any of the current schools — meaning that Apostle Lucas’s academy is set to see a six-figure sum from Louisiana taxpayers in turn for offering the self-proclaimed prophet’s “vision” to the students.