Education Savings Accounts: A New Opportunity for Louisiana Kids

Education Savings Accounts: A New Opportunity for Louisiana Kids

While tax reform has rightly dominated the news coverage of Louisiana’s current legislative session, other bills filed by lawmakers are offering some very exciting opportunities for the state to introduce a new education reform that has proven beneficial for numerous families in other states.

Education savings accounts, or ESAs for short, provide families of eligible students with public funds placed into an account created specifically dedicated to the child’s educational well-being. The funds are then used and directed by the student’s parent or guardian to purchase educational services that best meet the student’s unique needs. One such bill to follow this session is House Bill 556 by Representative Phillip DeVillier, which authorizes ESAs for school-aged children of military families and children in foster care. Let’s take a look at how ESAs work, generally, and how HB 556 could help Louisiana children and their families.

Education savings accounts, while new to Louisiana, have actually been in place in other states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Tennessee – for several years. Florida’s program enrolls approximately 12,000 students, while Nevada’s enrolls roughly 93 percent of all students statewide.[1] ESAs allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds into a state-authorized savings account. Parents then use those funds to pay for private school/instructor tuition, tutoring, educational therapies, virtual education, and even early college courses needed to best meet their child’s schooling needs.

Louisiana actually attempted to enact an ESA program back in 2012. Lawmakers passed legislation creating the Course Choice program to give students in grades 7-12 access to coursework that is unavailable in their home school but accessible through state-approved public and private providers. However, due to intense lobbying by the traditional school establishment and a series of lawsuits, what began as an attempt to create a parent-directed program was eventually modified to allow schools, not families, to determine how Course Choice (also known as Supplemental Course Academy) funds are spent and which students may benefit from the program.

House Bill 556 empowers parents and guardians of two special student populations to receive educational services in a manner that meets their often-transient needs. Louisiana is home to over 11,000 children of military connected families and has nearly 3,000 school-aged children in foster care.[2] Research has shown that these student populations are particularly vulnerable and often experience negative effects – academic as well as social and emotional – due to constantly moving from school to school. The bill would provide parents or guardians of these students with the ability to procure educational services that fit their needs , including core academic instruction and supplemental supports that may be needed. Examples might include school tuition and mandatory fees, textbooks, approved technology devices, curricular materials, and tutoring services.

If passed and signed into law, HB 556 would represent a significant step forward for Louisiana in empowering families to meet the educational needs of their children and accelerate their learning. Contact your state representative and state senator and ask them to vote YES on these two important bills.

If this program proves successful in Louisiana, and we have every reason to believe it will be, it could pave the way to giving all Louisiana school children access to a powerful, family-directed educational system that recognizes and supports their unique learning needs where one-size-fits-all schooling has not.

 

[1] Lueken, Mark. “What are ESAs and how do they work?” EdChoice. Published July 1, 2020, at https://www.edchoice.org/engage/what-are-education-savings-accounts-esas-and-how-do-they-work/

[2] Louisiana Department of Education, February 1, 2021 public school enrollment count

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