Advocates of any bill to give parents a new avenue for school choice | Education
Officials from two groups on Monday hailed a move to revamp Louisiana’s public schools by allowing students to leave classrooms and take the state’s share of annual aid with them.
Lauren Gleason, director of education and workforce development for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, noted that the state has long ranked among the bottom nationally in academic achievement.
“We have nowhere to go but up,” Gleason said. “Let’s try something new.”
Gleason made his comments at a day-long “solutions summit” on key issues sponsored by the Pelican Institute, which bills itself as a free-market think tank.
One of the topics was education savings accounts, which would give families access to their annual state education aid — about $5,500 — to help pay for private school, tutors, technology and other options.
Five accounts authorization bills have been tabled for the 2022 legislative session, which begins on March 14.
All five would limit eligibility to certain students, including those attending struggling public schools, children with reading difficulties and those with special needs.
Another measure that would allow most of the state’s roughly 700,000 public school students to qualify for the new rules is also expected to be tabled.
Erin Bendily, vice president of policy and strategy for the Pelican Institute, said even the current list of school options, including charter schools and vouchers, has limitations.
“There is an unmet need,” Bendily said. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
Traditional public school groups, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana School Boards Association, did not comment on the proposals.
College savings accounts are legal in eight states, and West Virginia passed the nation’s most accessible plan last year.
Patricia Rucker, a West Virginia state senator and chair of the Senate Education Committee, played a key role in getting the West Virginia law passed.
Rucker said that since the move will draw criticism, policymakers might as well make the law as broad as possible to help the most children rather than tailoring the measure to some students.
She also said the push to allow college savings accounts has benefited from parents becoming heavily involved in their child’s education during the pandemic due to distance learning.
Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, who is sponsoring a college savings account bill that would apply to students who have been the target of bullying, said she’s heard concerns if the accounts were made available to all students.
The problem is that most parents of private school parents pay full price for their children, while public school students leaving their classrooms could receive around $5,500 publicly funded by taking the State’s share of annual education aid.
Gleason said work continues on legislation that would make most students eligible for state aid.
“People have asked this question,” she said of the topic raised by Freiberg.