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Louisiana education savings account bill advances in House

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(The Center Square) – After being approved by the House Education Committee this week, a bill that would create a Louisiana education savings account program is closer to Gov. Jeff Landry’s desk.

The committee reported Senate Bill 313 favorably 8-4 on Tuesday and the measure is headed to the Committee on Appropriations. If it passes that hurdle, the bill will be headed to the floor for a potential vote.

The bill was passed in the upper chamber 24-15 on May 16.

SB313 is sponsored by Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, and would create the Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise program, better known as the LA GATOR.

The program would provide the state per-student cost plus a special education weight of 150% for those children to parents for qualifying education expenses such as tuition. Accounts would range from $15,099 for disabled students, $7,550 for students in poverty and $5,190 for other students

Under the bill, the LA GATOR funds would have to be separate from the state’s constitutionally-mandated K-12 funding formula, the Minimum Foundation Program. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would also have to draft and pass rules if the bill is signed into law.

Like House Bill 745 that passed the House in April, SB313 would replace an existing voucher program for students in failing schools with a universal three-phase program, covering those in poverty and with a disability first beginning in the 2024-25 school year before extending to all students in the next few years.

The bill is supported by Landry, EdChoice, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, Louisiana Family Formula and the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

Opposition to the bill centered on the fiscal impacts and accountability standards for participating schools. The fiscal note prepared by legislative staff for SB213 estimated the program’s cost at a minimum, annual price tag of $259.8 million. The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana released a report in March that put the annual cost to taxpayers at $519 million.

“Given the posture of the bill as it now stands and the fact there is uncertainty regarding state budgeting issues, we have concerns with no cap on this program,” Mike Faulk, the executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, told the committee.

Janet Pope, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, told the committee that she was afraid of the fiscal impacts on the state’s finances and how it might impact the educational gains made by students.

She also said since private schools under the LA GATOR program would receive state funding at the same level as public schools, they should be held to the same accountability standards.