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Choice – It’s good for me, you and Louisiana

• Lauren Chianese

Louisiana is a mecca of school choice, but that wasn’t always the case.

Previously known as a bottom-ranking state in educational quality and effectiveness, Louisiana has changed course (and not without making a few waves).  The state is redefining education for its students, and the impacts are huge.

Amid policies to increase expectations and promote effective educators, one area of the state’s strategic plan stands out as being particularly simple and powerful: Louisiana parents can choose the best school for their child.

The state’s array of school choice options includes private school choice programs, charter schools, and digital learning.

In 2008, the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program was established to provide private school vouchers to assist low-income children in failing schools. This year, 6,751 students enrolled – a 38 percent increase from last year. And satisfaction with the schools appears to be strong, with many returning schools doubling or even tripling their voucher enrollment.

In the state’s six largest parishes, Louisiana students with disabilities are eligible for the School Choice Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities. Beginning in the 2011-12 school year, this scholarship program provides families with tuition assistance to attend participating schools with special needs programs.

This school year, 117 charter schools are educating nearly 60,000 Louisiana students across 19 parishes.  According to a report by the Louisiana DOE, charter schools serve – on average – more students from low-income families than traditional district schools. And they do this while making substantially greater academic progress than traditional public schools.

Louisiana’s first online charter school opened in 2011, and the next year the state launched the Course Choice program. Currently at its enrollment capacity, this program provides 2,700 Louisiana students with access to thousands of high-quality academic and career-oriented courses, including online and blended courses.

With all these changes and innovations, students and schools are doing better than ever.

Last year, 7,300 more students scored at “basic” or above in 3rd and 8th grade English and math compared to the previous year.  That means 7,300 more boys and girls prepared to be more creative and successful at the next level of school.

In 2005, only one in five New Orleans students attended an A, B, or C school and three in five were in failing schools. Today, 67% of New Orleans students are in A, B, and C schools and only 5% attend failing schools.

And Louisiana students are graduating better prepared for college and careers. More students are earning college credits through AP courses and leaving high school eligible to attend college or technical training programs next year because of increased ACT scores.

When my parents were faced with sending their children to a chronically low-performing school, they chose the only alternative available: homeschooling.  I am eternally grateful for their decision, but that educational choice doesn’t work for every family.

Just like my mom and dad, parents in Louisiana are also seeking the best possible education for their sons and daughters.  All kids can learn, and Louisiana is empowering an increasing number of Louisiana parents to select the right school to help their children thrive.

About the author

Lauren Chianese @lechianese

Lauren Chianese is the Director of External Affairs for theFoundation for Florida’s Future and leads the Community Engagement team. Prior to joining the Foundation for Florida’s Future, Lauren was the SeniorPolicy Analyst for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Education. Lauren started her career as a 2002 Teach For America corps member teaching middle school, and has since committed to working to ensure education equity for all children. She has had the opportunity to work for Teach For America, Coro Southern California, City Year Los Angeles and the University of Southern California's ReadersPlus program in pursuit of this goal. Lauren was born in Pittsburgh, PA and grew up in Florida. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and the University of Florida. She currently serves on the Heart of Central Florida United Way, Building Safe Communities through Education Cabinet and teaches dance in Orlando. Contact Lauren at