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Largest school voucher program in U.S. to start in Louisiana

Kindergartners smile on their first day of school in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, La. The Governor of the state is expected to sign off on a massive new voucher program that allows public school children to get aid to attend private schools.

Bob Moon: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign an education overhaul into law this week. It'll create one of the largest school voucher programs in the country.

Marketplace's education correspondent Amy Scott joins us now from WYPR in Baltimore. Hi, Amy -- remind us how vouchers work -- and what's different about this one?

Amy Scott: Basically, low and, in this case, middle-income kids who go to struggling schools can take some taxpayer money and put it toward private school. In Louisiana, an estimated 380,000 students will qualify -- so the size is one thing. But also, students will be able to use some money to do an apprenticeship at a local business, or take a class online.

Moon: So what about the argument against vouchers -- that if a lot of students end up taking that money with them to private schools and businesses, it could hurt those who stay behind in public schools?

Scott: Right, that's why teachers' unions often fight this, and they did in Louisiana. Proponents say, though, that it saves public schools money, because they don't lose as much funding as it costs to educate each student.

I talked with Leslie Jacobs, who served on the state board of education. She now runs an education reform non-profit.

Leslie Jacobs: If public money's going to follow these students, then the schools taking in and educating these students need to show that they're performing at a level higher than a failing school would be.

The Louisiana program expands a smaller one already underway in New Orleans, and it's been popular with parents. But Jacobs says academically, the results have been mixed.

Moon: Marketplace's Amy Scott, thanks.

Scott: You're welcome.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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