Friday, May 17, 2024

Rep. Dodie Horton: Are We Representing People or Institutions?

by BIZ Magazine

There is legislation being considered this session that seeks to create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in Louisiana, similar to what’s been done in several other states. An ESA is simply an electronic account that would be set up for parents who choose to opt in and select educational opportunities and resources from an approved  list of schools and vendors for their child. Funding for ESAs would NOT come from the existing Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) which is how public school systems are  funded. 

I am hearing from public school boards across Louisiana who are expressing  their opposition to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). They are claiming that ESAs  will be harmful to school systems by “taking away funding.” I want to be very clear  about this. I represent people, not systems or institutions. I believe in freedom and that includes being free to choose where and how our children are educated. Our public schools have done and are doing an admirable job. Under the leadership of Dr.  Cade Brumley, LA State Superintendent, we’ve recently made significant improvements in literacy and overall, our K12 state ranking has risen to #41. That’s a positive step in the right direction and a testament to the hard work of our teachers, students and administrators.

But this is not about systems, this is about people and freedom. 

Even in high-performing schools, there’s surely at least a small number of  students whose needs are not being met or the school is simply not a good fit for any  number of reasons. Parents should have the educational freedom to have their child educated in the environment they deem fit. Our focus and responsibility should not be to protect governmental systems–where the “taking away funding” issue comes in; it should be to provide opportunities and resources for parents to be the ones to make decisions about their child’s education. As I’ve heard Dr. Brumley say, “children belong to parents, not the government.” 

The money that would fund ESAs comes from your pockets. We pay state income, property, and sales taxes so that services may be provided for the betterment  of the people in our state. This money belongs to the people, not systems. ESAs would allow YOU to choose how YOUR money is spent to educate YOUR child. It is  expected that if ESAs become law, there will be parents who choose to participate and that may result in some students attending a non-public school. In that case, the dollar will simply follow the child. Public schools will still receive the same amount they currently receive from the state based on a per pupil allocation. They will also continue to receive the same amount of locally generated funds. In fact, the local funds remain the same regardless of the number of students enrolled, which actually yields a higher per pupil revenue amount.

I believe in the free market and that competition has played a key role in the  exceptionalism of our great country. When I drive down to Baton Rouge to represent  my district, I notice hundreds of different vehicles on the road…vehicles of different sizes, colors and shapes. We are able to choose the vehicle that best fits our needs.  Can you imagine a world in which we all had to drive only one type of vehicle? Why shouldn’t we also have that same choice/freedom with how our children are educated? 

The truth is that ESAs will force competition in K-12 education, which will benefit parents and teachers. From drilling a Haynesville Shale well to a flat screen TV,  competition has delivered better pricing, better efficiency, better results, or all three. Competition in our education system will be no different. All schools in the state would compete for the privilege of educating a child, instead of certain schools treating it as an entitlement based on simply where the parents live. That means that schools will have to recruit, train, and maintain the best teachers and teaching environment for parents to want to send their child to that school. This is a win for parents, a win for students, and a win for teachers. Administrators at all types of schools will have to ensure their priority is truly laser focused on what is best for each student instead of only thinking about protecting an institution. 

In summary, ESAs are not the end of the world for public education. They are the answer to improving the teaching environment and student outcomes in our public schools. Competition forces the prioritization of the main mission of education and offering the best service. In this instance, it is a win-win for students and teachers. It can also be a win for public school systems if they would see it as the opportunity it is–focusing on people, particularly children. 

I say all of that as a mother whose three children were educated through our wonderful Bossier Parish schools, as the grandmother of four current students enrolled  in Bossier Parish schools, and as the person elected to represent the hard-working people of District 9 who only want what is best for their children.

Dodie Horton Represents District 9 in the Louisiana House of Representatives.

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