Education Savings Accounts Should Be Part of Louisiana’s Comeback Strategy
As thousands of southeast Louisiana students and their families struggle once again to resume schooling in the wake of Hurricane Ida, and as state officials work to implement a “Louisiana Comeback” plan to address significant student learning loss as a result of COVID-related interruptions, Louisiana must look to bigger, bolder solutions to give children and young people the academic and social-emotional supports and interventions they desperately need. The state has received billions of dollars to support students’ academic recovery, and those funds will no doubt help many students. But typical programs and interventions are one-size-fits-all approaches that often do not meet individual student needs and address family circumstances.
Instead of focusing on one-size-fits-all ideas, state education leaders should look towards breaking the mold of the traditional education system by implementing education savings accounts (ESAs) to provide customized solutions that meet the wide range of needs that children and families have during these extremely challenging times. ESAs provide families of eligible students the freedom to choose the school that best fits their needs. Funds can be used to pay for a wide variety of educational opportunities like private school, instructor tuition, tutoring, educational therapies, virtual education, early college courses, and instructional materials.
Education savings accounts have been in place in other states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Tennessee – for several years. This past legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers considered a bill that would have authorized ESAs for certain children, but it stalled in the last days of the session. Other publicly funded school choice programs offered by the state are extremely limited and are not available in many communities across our state. The bottom line is that families most in need of educational options simply don’t have it.
In order for Louisiana to see a real comeback story, it can’t continue doing and funding the same things over and over again. Simply putting more money into the same system and strategies will do little to achieve greatly improved outcomes, which were sorely needed even before COVID and the natural disasters of 2020 and 2021. Louisiana has a tremendous opportunity right now – a comeback moment – but we need a bold comprehensive comeback strategy. Our public school accountability and rating system continues to hold less than rigorous goals for student achievement, and as a result, we continue to lag behind most other states. Our low- and middle-income families have few opportunities to be able to address their children’s learning and development needs, and those needs are now higher than ever before. We must enact bigger, bolder reforms to give them what they need to be successful. Their future depends on it.