This week the state Senate passed another amendment to the Alabama Accountability Act–our deep-fried version of school vouchers.  The new bill was sponsored by Senator Del Marsh who explained to everyone who attended a recent public hearing on the bill that they are great.

However, it was only passed by a 17-15 margin and seven Republican senators broke ranks with Marsh and voted against it.  Hardly a ringing endorsement.  More and more lawmakers are wondering why they can not get answers to their questions about the accountability act.  In particular, Senator Paul Bussman of Cullman who has been trying for at least two years to find out how many students who have actually been attending a “failing school” have received vouchers to attend a private school.

Marsh’s argument in support of vouchers is not helped at all by stories such as this one from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans showing that the Louisiana voucher program may be doing more harm than good for students.

Written by that newspaper’s longtime education reporter, Danielle Drellinger, the article pulls no punches.  For instance:

“Louisiana’s private school voucher program was billed as an exit hatch for students from bad public schools.  But it is more like a trap door, according to a study released Monday (Feb. 22) by the University of Arkansas and the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University.

The initial results were devastating.  Already behind academically, the students did even worse after one year at their new schools.  The state mathematics test scores fell 24 percentile point below those of their peers who were not awarded a voucher.  Their English scores fell 8 percentile point below.

Researchers Jonathan Mills and Patrick Wolf examined about 1,525 students who attended third through sixth grade in public schools in 2011-12, the year before the scholarship program expanded from New Orleans to statewide.  They caution results might not be the same for students in other grades.

Mills and Wolf called these results “unprecedented: among studies of voucher programs.  They had several possible explanations.

* The private schools might not have been used to educating children from low-incom families.  Additionally, their curricula might not have been in line with the state’s mathematics benchmarks.  If either is true, test scores might improve over time as schools adjust, Mills and Wolfe said.

* Most students have found mildly positive results for small voucher programs, Mills and Wolf wrote.  Louisiana’s program is much larger.

* The more prestigious and expensive private schools generally do not take vouchers.  The dollar amount does not cover their full tuition; the schools may not select which students to accept; and school leaders told the American Enterprise Institute that the voucher children weren’t well-prepared.  Indeed, a National Bureau of Economic Research study released in December found that private schools often signed up to accept vouchers only after their regular enrollment plunged.”

Gosh, why do reporters keep turning up stuff like this?  Don’t they know that politiians know more about education than researchers?