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Education

Struggling Louisiana students could soon use state money for private or home schooling

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This story was originally published on the Louisiana Illuminator.

Louisiana could soon give parents of students struggling to read the option to pull them out of public school and provide them money for private school or homeschooling. A bill that would pull these subsidies out of the state’s public education budget moved closer to final passage Wednesday in the Louisiana Legislature.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt’s Senate Bill 203 would create the Reading Education Savings Account program. It would allow second- or third-grade students who aren’t reading at grade level to pursue alternatives. It was approved in a 6-2 vote in the House Education Committee.

“This was just trying to give choices (to parents) because every child learns differently, and we have, in my opinion, just such a great need,” Hewitt said to the committee.

Based on 2019 LEAP test results, only 46% of Louisiana third-graders were on track to master English and 43% were on track to master math, Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley said last year.

The subsidy would equal how much the state spends per student at public schools through its Minimum Foundation Plan (MFP) formula. Students who use the education savings account to pull out of public school would be awarded about $5,164 each on average, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The actual amount per student in each school district varies depending on a variety of factors, including local tax revenue available and the number of low-income and special needs students. School districts could see additional costs or savings as a result.

For example, St. Helena Parish schools, which have a per-pupil allocation of $8,295, would save money from this program. St. Charles, with a per-pupil allocation of $2,873, would see its costs go up.

The Department of Education anticipates program planning and administration will cost the department $223,954 per year, according to the fiscal note.

The bill received criticism for taking money away from state funds that would go to Louisiana public schools that are already struggling because of budget cuts.

“I’m not giving up on public schools at all. I am a product of public schools… it’s just saying, right now today, where we are, we’re not getting the results for every child because some children perhaps do better in a smaller learning environment,” Hewitt said.

Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer and vice chair of committee, voted against the legislation because he said a $5,000 award won’t be enough to cover private school tuition for poorer students who are struggling.

“For rural Louisiana, no,” Jefferson said during the roll call vote on the bill.

Ethan Melancon, director of governmental affairs for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the state board supports Hewitt’s bill because they believe “parent choice and giving parents every option to provide better educational quality education for their kids is important,” he said.

“So if (students) aren’t (reading at grade level) currently in their school, there should be another option or another tool in their toolbox to be able to do that,” Melancon said to the committee.

The bill moves to the House for final passage.

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