(The Center Square) – A law to create college savings accounts for struggling students has been passed by Louisiana House.
Lawmakers voted 91-1 to approve House Bill 194, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Butler, R-Ville Platte, to create state-funded ESAs for students with disabilities such as deafness, blindness, or autism. Parents can use AES to educate their children outside the public education system.
HB 194 directs the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Department of Education to “allocate annually to each account, from funds appropriated or otherwise made available for the program, a amount equal to the State’s Basic Per-Student Allocation, as provided in the Basic Program Minimum Formula, plus any applicable weighted funds based on student characteristics. »
Parents can use funds “only for eligible educational expenses of the participating student,” which include tuition, fees, textbooks, instructional or tutoring services, supplementary materials, devices technologies and therapeutic services.
“I support every bill that comes through here that gives a child the right to an education regardless of their circumstances,” Butler, a mother of a disabled child, said on Wednesday. “My bill is not here to go against our school systems, but it does give these children the opportunity to succeed in life to the best of their abilities.”
Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, the only lawmaker to vote against the bill, raised objections to spending public funds on private institutions.
“It’s nothing against our students with special needs, I look after them in my own family, but I have concerns where I would like to be consistent. I cannot support ESAs, systems of vouchers where our public schools are taxing the money that’s going to private institutions right now,” Phelps said.
Others applauded Butler for presenting the bill.
“You’re talking about a kid who’s not educated in public school, but the way the parents see fit,” Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzalez, said. “So thank you for bringing this. It’s a very good bill.”
“If there’s one category where school choice works, where an ESA works, it’s in the disability community,” said Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington. “Our public schools are doing a wonderful job in many ways, and in some cases with the (special education) classrooms, they are doing a great job. I think that’s one area where those families would have advantage in considering other options and using that part of the state of their dollars.”
HB 194 is among several bills to create ESAs for different student demographics in Pelican State. Other measures include HB 452sponsored by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, to create accounts for students who have documented at least two instances of bullying, or any student victim of sexual assault.
HB 33sponsored by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, would do the same for children from military families, those in foster care, and students attending D- or F-rated schools who were denied transfer to higher-rated schools .
HB 452 is currently pending on the floor of the House after gaining approval from the House Education and Appropriations Committees.
HB 33 was approved by the House in a 75-26 vote on April 20 and is now part of the Senate Education Committee.
Yet another ESA bill to extend the option to all students, HB 824was voluntarily postponed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Jefferson, in late April.