(The Center Square) — Legislation to expand school choice in Louisiana for both public and private schools could soon get a floor vote in the House following two recent committee approvals.
House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would create a Sunshine Scholarship Program to provide education savings accounts equal to the state average per-pupil funding parents can use to send their children to a school of their choice, or for other alternative education options.
HB 98 would also allow parents to enroll their children in the public school of their choice, regardless of performance letter grade of the school, if there’s sufficient capacity. Currently, public school students can only move to another public school if they’re transferring from a school with a performance letter grade of “D” or “F” to one rated “A,” “B,” or “C.”
Harris explained the various benefits of the bill, including improved academic achievement, increased access, increased equality, cost savings, and increased innovation and competition.
“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest the implementation of an educational savings account such as HB98 in Louisiana could save the state money in the long run,” he said.
Harris pointed research on ESAs in Arizona that showed that per-pupil ESAs costs are less than traditional school funding, while also leading to less infrastructure costs for public schools.
At least 13 states have adopted ESA programs, including Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida, which has had its program in place for roughly two decades, he said.
“When they implemented this program they were very low at the bottom of education and now I think they’re at number three in the last article I read,” Harris said of Florida, “and the chairman of education in Florida attributes a lot of that to them doing this new way of thinking when it came to educating the kids in Florida.”
Louisiana lawmakers last session approved bills to provide ESAs to students with disabilities and those struggling to read, but Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the measures because he argued in his veto message they “would potentially divert Minimum Foundation Program funds (state education funding) for students to attend non-public schools.”
Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, on Monday questioned how HB 98 would impact public school funding, noting that schools will lose state funds for students who transfer to private schools.
“So the students that might take a private route or an alternative route actually may end up saving that local school system money because they’re not teaching as many students and some of their local and federal dollars may stay the same,” he said.
HB 98 ultimately passed the House Appropriations Committee without objection. It passed the House Education Committee last week.
It’s backed by the Pelican Institute, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, LA Kids Matter, Americans for Prosperity, and Ed Choice. Opponents include the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Progress Action and the Louisiana Budget Project, among others.