(The Center Square) — A bill that would create an education savings accounts (ESAs) program for qualifying students passed the Louisiana House and has moved to the Senate Education Committee.
House Bill 33, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Devillier, R-Eunice, would provide parents of qualifying students an ESA equal to the average amount of state funding school districts receive to educate each student.
This bill would allow ESAs for children from military families, those in foster care and students attending D- or F-rated schools that have been denied transfer to higher-rated schools.
“This education savings account would allow children to not only go to a different school and get educated, but it goes further than that,” Devillier said on Wednesday when questioned on the program leading to an exodus of public school students.
In addition to funding tuition and fees for qualified private schools, the ESAs can be used for tutoring, textbooks required by participating schools, supplemental materials and qualified technological devices or the services of a licensed physician.
Some critics — such as Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge — been concerned with the bill taking state funding from public school districts and putting it toward ESAs.
“If it costs $10,000 to educate a child in a school district and approximately half comes from the state and half comes from local tax dollars,” Ivey said. “If $5,000 of those dollars goes into an account and (an eligible student) is able to use that to go to another school, that would leave the school district with $5,000 net because there’s no cost to educate that child in the school district.”
Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, expressed concerns during both the House floor hearing and the prior education committee hearing about taxpayer dollars being used to support and fund students transferring to private schools using the ESA program.
“We’re using these funds to give the best opportunity to educate children in our state,” Rep. DeVillier said in response to her criticism.
HB 33 is one of several bills being considered this legislative session concerning ESAs for public school students.
HB 194, HB 227 and HB 452 are additional bills supporting ESAs for various student populations that are still alive in the House. Senate Bill 203, which creates ESAs for students that are reading below grade level, is being considered by the Senate Education Committee.