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Dominic Massa / EyewitnessNews

NEWORLEANS- State and local education leaders touted the success of the state's school scholarship or voucher program, which they say has paid state money to send nearly 5,000 students to private schools in the first quarter of this school year.

Tuesday afternoon, state education superintendent John White visited one of the 118 schools which participates in the Louisiana Scholarship Program, Good Shepherd Catholic School in the Central Business District.

In April, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law an expanded school scholarship program, which offered scholarships this school year to 5,600 students in private and religious schools. Students were selected for scholarships through a lottery, which attracted more than 10,000 applicants.

Some critics have questioned how the schools were selected to participate in the program and what sort of accountability and financial controls are in place for schools not run by the state or state-approved charters.

'Not only is the bar exactly the same bar academically as it is in the traditional school system but the consequences are swifter,' White said Tuesday.

'Also the reality is that the average tuition in this program is significantly cheaper than the average tuition in public schools, which is going to save the state and our local school systems money.'

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, chairman of the state senate education committee, and Archdiocesan schools superintendent Dr. Jan Lancaster were two of the local education leaders touting the success of the program at Tuesday's event. The scholarship program has 3,000 students enrolled in local Catholic schools alone, such as Good Shepherd.

Supporters also pointed to goals for increased academic performance of students in the scholarship program.

They cited a report by the conservative thintank Pelican Institute for Public Policy, which says 86 percent of the students taking advantage of the program were enrolled in a failing school last year. 91 percent of them are minority, 9 percent are white.

Students are eligible for the program if their family income is less than 250% of the federal poverty line. They must be entering kindergarten or enrolled in state-identified struggling schools with a letter grade of C, D or F.

Statewide, non-public schools educate about 14 percent of students, according to the Pelican Institute. In New Orleans, the number is 35 percent, according to the Pelican Institute and a local group called Champions for School Choice, which organized Tuesday's progress report press conference.

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