The Guidebook and a School Choice Success Story: Meet the Gauthiers

When Ronnie and Pamela Gauthier’s youngest child, Joseph, was diagnosed with Down syndrome, the Louisiana couple knew they were at the beginning of a lifelong challenge.

They had many questions. What would be Joseph’s quality of life? Could he be happy like other children? What could they expect for Joseph’s education?

The answer to one of those questions came when Joseph’s father was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room and saw an advertisement in a parenting magazine for Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy.

Could this be a place for Joseph, a private school that provides unique solutions for unique learners, he wondered. The bigger question – could the Gauthiers afford to send Joseph to this school? Happily, the answers were yes and yes. The Gauthiers qualified for the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program (Louisiana Scholarship Program), one of the state’s three private school choice programs.

The just released American Federation for Children 2017-2018 School Choice Guidebook provides information and rankings of the 54 private school choice programs nationwide – including the program that makes it possible for Joseph to attend Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy. This data is useful to both policymakers and the families these programs assist.

Louisiana’s Tuition Donation Rebate Program, which served 2,018 students, was ranked 3rd out of the nation’s 18 tax credit scholarship programs by the Guidebook. The program received high marks for unique tax credit features, accountability and student eligibility.

Louisiana’s Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program served 6,909 students last year and was ranked 9th out of the nation’s 11 voucher programs. The rubric employed to determine this ranking considered several factors, including regulatory burden, barriers to new schools, and enrollment growth.

Louisiana’s School Choice Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities addresses the challenges faced by families with children who have special needs, including autism, developmental delay, emotional disturbance and traumatic brain injury. Because of the unique nature of special education programs, the Guidebook does not score or rank programs that serve students with special needs.

Louisiana’s private school choice programs give parents the financial resources to escape a failing school, find a safe haven from bullying, or simply choose the environment that best suits their child’s needs.

Now 12 years old, Joseph has attended Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy for four years. His parents have seen him grow as a student and a young man. “It was just a breakthrough. He changed immediately from F’s to A’s and B’s,” said Pamela Gauthier, “I’ve seen Joseph grow personally in the areas of confidence and liking himself as a child, being able to interact with grownups and children.”

Ronnie Gauthier always thinks about where Joseph would be without the Louisiana Scholarship Program. “It’s kind of a frightening thought because he would probably be in public school. Just floating through life, not being challenged.”