Diplomas for Purchase: Pay $465, No Class Attendance Necessary – A Glimpse into Louisiana’s Unsanctioned Educational Institutions

by Ethan Kim
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unregulated schools Louisiana

Arliya Martin, feeling a mix of relief and thankfulness, embraced her newly acquired high school diploma.

For her, it symbolized a gateway to more lucrative employment opportunities. After her expulsion from high school, Martin struggled for eight years in factory jobs, striving to provide for her children.

“This marks the start of a fresh chapter in my life,” she expressed.

On July 27, 2023, in Springfield, La., Arliya Martin, 26, engages in a conversation with Kitty Sibley Morrison, the principal and founder of Springfield Preparatory School. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

However, Martin’s journey to her diploma was unconventional: she neither attended any classes nor passed any tests. Instead, she received her degree in July from a school offering high school diplomas for $465.

Unlike standard public or private educational institutions, or formal homeschooling programs, a significant number of Louisiana’s nearly 9,000 private schools operate without state accreditation. These schools, mostly established for individual homeschooling families, range from small home setups to larger institutions with several students and teachers.

Despite representing a minor fraction of Louisiana’s total student body, these unregulated schools reflect a growing trend post-COVID-19 – a shift away from traditional educational structures.

On August 5, 2023, in Holden, La., Khyli Barbee, 15, celebrates graduation from Springfield Preparatory School, and Winnie Morrison Hughes, a homeschool consultant at the school, presents a diploma to Jamarques Harrison, 28. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

The pandemic led to a significant decline in U.S. public school enrollments, with over 1.2 million students transitioning to private schools or declaring homeschooling. The status of thousands more remains unknown. In contrast, Louisiana’s unregulated schools have seen enrollment nearly double since the pandemic, reaching over 21,000 students.

Proponents of these schools view the lack of state oversight as a positive, asserting that it aligns with the principle of parental rights.

Mariah Wright, 16, and Alasia Baker, 17, prepare for Springfield Preparatory School’s graduation ceremony in Holden, La., on August 5, 2023. Wright’s mortar cap reads, “I did my best; God did the rest!” (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Springfield Preparatory School operates as a hub for Christian homeschoolers. While many students attend classes, the school’s principal, Kitty Sibley Morrison, also issues diplomas to those claimed by their parents to have been homeschooled, regardless of when.

Sibley Morrison sees her role as offering lifelong support to homeschooling families, not selling diplomas. However, the school lists fees for various services, including diplomas and graduation ceremonies.

As of the 2022-23 school year, the student count in such unregulated schools has surged, with some adopting whimsical names like “Ballerina Jedi Academy.”

The Louisiana Department of Education, lacking verification means, warns parents about these schools’ unconfirmed status. The state offers two homeschooling options, but the unregulated private school route involves no educational assurances.

At least two of these schools have faced abuse allegations, with the state powerless to intervene.

Founded in 1980, Louisiana’s unregulated schools emerged from a coalition of Christian educators and homeschool advocates, seeking deregulation of private education. Despite opposition, these schools have persisted, with over a dozen states now offering similar homeschooling models.

Springfield Preparatory School, situated in Springfield, La., and seen here on July 27, 2023, serves a diverse array of families seeking alternatives to public education. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

Some families opt for Springfield Preparatory School for specific classes or services, while others, like Arliya Martin, directly pursue a diploma. Martin, expelled in her 10th grade, found hope in this school. Despite her diploma’s initial inaccuracies, she remains undeterred, trusting in the school’s ability to foster her educational and career aspirations.

In the eyes of Sibley Morrison, it’s the parents who determine their child’s educational readiness.

The article also highlights the growing skepticism towards public education and the diverse reasons families choose alternative education paths.

On August 5, 2023, in Holden, La., Arliya Martin, 26, and Kitty Sibley Morrison celebrate Martin’s graduation from Springfield Preparatory School. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

Reported by Charles Lussier of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Big Big News education team’s work is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with the AP maintaining full editorial independence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about unregulated schools Louisiana

What are Unregulated Schools in Louisiana?

Unregulated schools in Louisiana are private educational institutions that operate without state accreditation. They offer high school diplomas for a fee, without requiring students to attend classes or pass tests. This phenomenon has grown, particularly post-pandemic, reflecting a shift away from traditional educational structures.

How Do Unregulated Schools Differ from Traditional Schools?

Unlike traditional public or private schools, unregulated schools in Louisiana do not need state approval to operate or grant degrees. They often cater to homeschooling families and can vary from small home setups to larger institutions with multiple students and teachers.

What is the Controversy Surrounding the Sale of Diplomas in Louisiana?

The controversy lies in the fact that these unregulated schools sell high school diplomas without providing formal education or ensuring educational standards. This raises questions about the validity of the degrees awarded and the overall quality of education the students receive.

How Has Enrollment in Unregulated Schools Changed Since the Pandemic?

Enrollment in Louisiana’s unregulated schools has nearly doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 21,000 students are now enrolled in these schools, compared to approximately 11,600 in the 2017-18 school year.

What is the Legal Status of These Unregulated Schools?

While these schools operate legally, they do so without state oversight or accreditation. They are required to report minimal information to the state, such as the school’s name, address, and student count, but there are no checks on educational quality or safety.

How Does the Louisiana Department of Education View These Schools?

The Louisiana Department of Education acknowledges the existence of these schools but warns parents that it cannot confirm their compliance with legal definitions of a school, nor attest to their safety or educational quality.

What Options are Available for Homeschooling in Louisiana?

Louisiana offers two main options for homeschooling: an official home study program that requires documentation of educational quality comparable to public schools, and the option to establish a private school without state approval, with no educational requirements.

More about unregulated schools Louisiana

  • Louisiana Private School Regulations
  • Unregulated Schools and Diploma Sales
  • Homeschooling Alternatives in Louisiana
  • Educational Standards and Unaccredited Schools
  • COVID-19 Impact on Education Choices

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