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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LPR

Proposal for Louisiana families to receive state money for private school

State legislators advanced a bill last week that would offer all Louisiana families, regardless of financial need, public money for private school.

The plan, supported by Gov. Jeff Landry and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, would allow parents to apply for stipends ranging from $5,100 to $15,000 per year to pay for private school or other education expenses.

State Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, the sponsor of bill SB 313, said the purpose is to empower parents and change the education system, which historically has ranked near the bottom nationally. The bill would create publicly funded “education savings accounts,” or ESAs, stipends parents could spend on tuition, tutoring, online classes and more.

“We need a dramatic change — and this is what this program will do,” said Edmonds, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. The committee voted 5-2 to send it to the full Senate.

Edmonds said stipends would be awarded first-come, first-served. He also said the program would phase in over three years, with all families eligible for stipends in fall 2027. The stipends would be issued on a sliding scale, he added, with about $5,100 for higher-income families, $7,500 for low-income families and $15,000 for students with disabilities.

But critics questioned why the state would subsidize private education for families who can afford to pay tuition or live near high-performing public schools. They also said the state should hold private schools that receive tax dollars to the same standards as public schools.

Steven Procopio, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, an independent policy research group, also raised fiscal concerns. He estimated that 120,000 students could apply for stipends after the program had been in operation for five years or so, bringing the cost to $520 million annually.

The ESA program would replace the current private-school vouchers that Louisiana offers low-income families whose children attend low-rated schools. The state spent about $45 million on vouchers for just over 6,000 students this school year.

Procopio was the only person Wednesday to float a cost estimate. His projection assumes that 80% of the roughly 116,000 students who currently attend private school would eventually apply for stipends after the program phases in and families and schools learn about it– not even accounting for those in public schools who would apply.

Sen. Katrina Jackson-Andrews, D-Monroe, said she was concerned the private-school subsidies would drain public schools of students and funding. She also questioned why families who are zoned for top-rated public schools should receive tax dollars to pay for private school.

Proponents of SB 313 argued that families should decide where their taxes go. Gene Mills, president of the Family Forum, a conservative research and advocacy group, said parents “who by force of the law and police power of the state have paid taxes” should expect “a return on that investment."

“This is their money,” he said. Other ESA supporters said the program would give students a path out of failing public schools.

But Dannie Garrett, executive counsel for the Louisiana School Boards Association, noted that the statewide score for public schools last year based on student achievement data was nearly 79, or a B. By contrast, private schools that accepted vouchers and received state ratings earned an average score of 52.

Unlike the voucher program, the ESA bills would not require private schools to administer the same annual test as public schools, making comparisons difficult.

“We're never going to know how well those dollars were spent if we're not able to compare the same thing,” Garrett told lawmakers.

The House Education Committee is expected to vote on Emerson’s ESA bill this week.


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