(The Center Square) – A leading advocate for school choice in Louisiana is promoting education savings accounts as a way to help schoolchildren make up lost ground and continually improve the state’s educational environment.
Statewide student assessment results released last month showed K-12 schoolchildren fell behind amid two years of COVID-19 natural disasters and turmoil . As a result, the Department of Education announced its âreturn to Louisianaâ plan, which comes with record-breaking taxpayer funding.
“Louisiana’s school systems have received approximately $ 4 billion in stimulus funds to support efforts like these, and we need to use our one-time resources well,” State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said. about the department’s student recovery program. âWe need to use the dollars to get through this difficult time and prepare our state to be better after the pandemic. “
The New Orleans-based Pelican Institute has advocated for tax transparency and school choice reforms. Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the organization, recently said that Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) should be included in the rebuilding mission.
âFor Louisiana to see a real comeback story, it can’t just keep doing and funding the same things over and over again,â Erspamer said. “Just putting more money into the same system and the same strategies won’t do much to achieve drastically improved results, which were badly needed even before COVID and the natural disasters of 2020 and 2021.”
Louisiana has traditionally spent neighboring states on a per-student funding basis, while recording some of the lowest performance scores in the country. Louisiana’s K-12 public education system ranks 46th out of 50 states, according to US News and World Report.
Lawmakers and education officials could help “break the mold,” Erspamer said, by introducing ESAs for children and families who want more options than currently exist.
The reform initiative would provide parents and legal guardians of eligible students with government-authorized savings accounts to pay for various educational items, including private school tuition fees.
If an eligible student is removed from their geographically assigned public school, the public education money would be deposited into the student’s approved account. The goal is to allow taxpayer dollars to follow students rather than stay in designated schools where they are no longer enrolled.
Other approved expenses include virtual school, tutoring, instructor tuition, teaching materials, and special education services for students with disabilities.
Teacher unions and traditional advocates of public schools oppose ESAs to divert funding from the public education system, which is open to all students. In a white paper, the American Federation of Teachers called ESAs “vouchers that can be used more widely than in private schools.”
The National Education Association (NEA) has called savings accounts a tool for privatizing education by transferring “public money to the private sector without accountability or transparency.”
The NEA’s “Policy Playbook for Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration” criticizes the ESAs for siphoning off limited public resources and “weakening the wall of separation between church and state”, due to the religious nature of some private schools.
Several states have implemented the school choice program or taken legislative action in their direction, including Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Tennessee. According to Education Next, a non-partisan reform journal, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire all advanced ESA reforms this year.
A bill that would have created education savings accounts in Louisiana was introduced in the 2021 regular legislative session by Representative Phillip R. DeVillier, R-Eunice. The measure – House Bill 556 – would have established the program for children of military families and children in foster care. He died in the Senate Finance Committee after passing the State Chamber, 96-1.
According to the Pelican Institute, ESAs not only allow more choice, but they offer low- and middle-income families the opportunity to attend private schools and experience educational options that may be financially out of reach.
âWe need to adopt bigger and bolder reforms to give them what they need to be successful. Their future depends on it, âErspamer said.