Monday, March 14, 2016

More on Voucher Overfunding

I wanted more detail on the alleged overfunding of school vouchers in Louisiana so I contacted Shawn Fleming, Deputy Director of the Developmental Disabilities Council. Fleming had addressed BESE when John White attempted to have his report accepted claiming that school vouchers save the state money. Fleming had pointed out at that time that vouchers were actually overfunded compared to public schools because of an overestimation of the costs of serving students with disabilities.

I asked Fleming to explain how he thought that vouchers were overfunded. He pointed out the funding formula for traditional schools allocates more money for each student with a disability whereas the per student amount a private school (voucher) can receive is a flat rate. The flat rate of the vouchers rolls up the extra money typically allocated for the higher cost services needed by students with disabilities. By using the average amount of funding for disabilities used in public schools, the state assumes that voucher schools are serving students with disabilities at the same level as in public schools. But actually, according to Fleming and confirmed by White in the BESE meeting, voucher schools accept much fewer students with disabilities than do the public schools. Also, the students with disabilities who do tend to be served by voucher schools are on average much less severe and cost less to provide services than those found in public schools. This results in a much lower actual cost for serving students in the voucher program than is justified by the amounts schools can receive. Private voucher schools can then utilize these extra funds for other programs or costs. Fleming also pointed out that many of these private schools also receive assistance with student transportation and testing for disabilities on top of the funding for vouchers.

That's why the Legislative fiscal office is correct in claiming that eliminating or reducing vouchers will save the state money. In fact the cost savings by reducing vouchers would be greater than the estimates of even the legislative fiscal office according to Fleming. That's because the fiscal office estimate did not include the disparity in actual service to students with disabilities. So White's estimate of cost of serving voucher students is deliberately higher than real cost. Another instance of "white lies". If these students transferred back to public schools, White knows the savings to the state - and the taxpayers - would be significant.

Also as I pointed out in an earlier post, White has funded vouchers outside the formula by providing contract grants for the startup of new voucher schools, which many believe is in violation of the voucher law which prohibits the establishment of schools based primarily on vouchers.

BESE voted unamously to prevent White from issuing his false report of voucher savings. Yet almost immediately White's "crack" public relations office issued a statement to the media claiming that his methodology for calculating voucher costs was just different instead of wrong. I believe this PR spin was actually in violation of the BESE action because White knows his calculation was not accurate! White still behaves as though BESE exists primarily to serve his office. Of course that was the intent of the massive out-of-state funding of the recent BESE elections.