Monday, May 27, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers could explore implementing an ESA program

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Louisiana education officials could soon begin exploring how to implement an education savings account program students can use to attend private schools, or for other educational expenses outside the public school system.

Members of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 to task the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to begin studying how the state could implement an education savings account program.

The resolution follows Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of legislation last session to create ESAs students can use for private school tuition or other education expenses outside of the public school system. The bills would have provided state funds to students struggling to read and those with disabilities. Hewitt is a Republican candidate for governor.

“We’ve had legislative intent to have ESA accounts, but the governor has voted that,” sponsor Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, told the committee. SCR25 is “trying to explore what are the resources that are out there, how would you manage a program like this, and what are some of the other states doing.”

“It’s basically doing the homework,” she said.

At least 11 states currently provide some form of ESAs, though some restrict eligibility to students with disabilities, certain geographic regions, or to students in failing public schools. In Louisiana, two bills are pending in the House to offer ESAs.

House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would create a Sunshine Scholarship Program to provide education savings accounts with a student’s per-pupil state funding parents can use to send their children to a school of their choice.

HB 9, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Butler, R-Acadia, would do the same for students with disabilities.

Both bills cleared the House Education Committee in late April and are now pending in the House Appropriations Committee.

Other legislation approved by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday included Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, to require all libraries to adopt and implement a policy to limit the access of minors to sexually explicit material.

“It keeps local control for library systems to adopt policies with respect to their community standards,” Cloud said.

The bill would require library boards to vet books for sexually explicit material when challenged by parents or residents and to implement a library card system that requires a minor’s parent or guardian to select whether the minor is permitted to check out sexually explicit material physically available in the library.

“We do not expect library systems to go through every single book in their library,” Cloud said. “This would only … apply to books that parents want to challenge against. It would be on a book-by-book basis.”

Opposition to the bill came from 10,000 Women Louisiana, Friends of the New Orleans Public Library, East Baton Rouge Parish Library, and several parents who testified. Parents also testified in support, along with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and others.

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