House passes bill to fund education savings accounts

BATON ROUGE — Proposed legislation allowing Louisiana parents to utilize taxpayer funds to enroll their children in private schools or other public schools is getting closer to becoming law.

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, authored the proposal, which passed the House with a 72-32 vote on Monday.

It would create education savings accounts for families who want to send their kids to alternative education options.

The annual education savings account awards would be $5,100 for students from higher-income homes, $7,500 for students from lower-income families, and $15,000 for students with special needs.

The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 313, a duplicate bill by Sen. Rick Edmonds. That version proposes to allow homeschoolers to receive ESA funds, while Emerson’s version does not.

Supporters frame the legislation as the hallmark of parental choice. Opponents fear the program will take resources from the public school system. Some people express concerns that it would cause more parents to pull their children from the public system―even the top-rated schools―further diminishing public school funding, which is based on the number of students enrolled.

During the first year of the program in 2025-2026, students in Louisiana’s existing school voucher program would be prioritized for an ESA, but by year three, it would be open to any household. The voucher program, which serves 5,600 children, would also be eliminated after ESAs go into effect. The voucher program pays for students to attend private schools if they are in public schools rated C, D, or F. 

If the legislation becomes law, the program would be phased over three years, beginning during the 2025-2026 school year. It would favor current voucher students and lower-income students in its first year. In the third year, all students would be eligible.

The education savings account program could cost the state $258 million in new spending by its third year when every student is eligible, according to the fiscal note attached to the legislation.

Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans said wants low-income families to be prioritized in the program.

“What I will not do in this moment, as I watch children in poverty trapped in failing schools who can hardly read, I’ll be damned if I continue to defend the status quo,” he said.

Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie said lawmakers should consider details before implementing an ESA program.

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