by AT Staff

Alfred Booker Jr. Academy, formerly Smyrna Seventh-day Adventist School, could be approved for 70 student spots in the Louisiana Scholarship Program. This is a program that uses tax-funded vouchers to pay for students to attend private schools, and since ABJA currently has ten students in grades K through 8, the voucher program could make an unprecedented difference to the school, the Smyrna Seventh-day Adventist church next door, and the community.

In order to become part of the program, ABJA had to become an official nonpublic school. Principal Sheldon Eakins explained that this involved paperwork about teachers' credentials, standardized testing and more. He originally planned to apply for 25 student spots, but a state Dept. of Ed. official toured the facility in February. Seeing a 25-year-old building with seven classrooms (only two of which, both with SMARTboards, are presently in use), a computer lab and library, a lunchroom, and a gym, plus a playground, the official told them they were eligible for 70 students. So they began the process of training, learning about student eligibility, etc. The school has already invested close to $300,000 in bringing quality education to the community, and will make further improvements, as well as hiring more teachers, if the approval goes through and the school attendance acquires the ability to jump seven-fold.
"The whole purpose of joining is that we have a commitment to service not only our own churches but the whole community," Eakins said. "How are we reaching out to those and witnessing if we're not proactively going after the kids?" Eakins said students are not required to be Seventh-day Adventist, but religion class is included. "We teach Bible. We are a Christian school. We have chapel." (
School voucher programs have been very controversial all over the U.S., with proponents saying it will help lower-income students get into better educational programs and create a healthy competition among schools which will improve educational quality, and opponents saying it will allow indoctrination of vulnerable children with Bible teaching. Within the Adventist community, some are opposed because they fear that using tax funds for private schools will give the government too much authority over school programs.
In Louisiana, the progress of the voucher program has been rocky, with a state judge declaring it unconstitutional in November of 2012, but the education superintendent, John White, vowing in February that the state will find a way to pay for it next year, anyway, regardless of the progress of appeals.
Eakins said parents of his students have responded positively to being part of the program, and some students have already applied, though actual approval has not yet been received.