The Louisiana Legislature has filed several bills to expand educational choice among its proposals for the 2022 legislative session. These bills create education savings accounts (ESAs), which enable families to access public funds earmarked for their children’s education in a public school and use those funds to pay for private school tuition or a customized educational plan using state-approved education service providers. Proponents of the bills believe that ESAs could be a game-changer in Louisiana as more parents than ever before are searching for options that more effectively meet the needs of their children.

The bills authorize ESAs for several groups of students with special needs and circumstances, including:

  • Children of military families, children in foster care, and children attending D- and F-rated public schools who have requested and been denied public school choice (HB 33)

  • Children who are not yet reading on grade level (SB 203)

  • Children who have been the victims of bullying (HB 452)

  • Children with disabilities (HB 194 and 227)

Additionally, a universal ESA bill was filed (HB 824).

The Baton Rouge Business Report recently reported that a universal ESA bill will be filed as well, empowering all families in Louisiana to send their child to a school that best fits his or her unique needs.

ESAs exist in eight states: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. West Virginia’s law was passed just last year and is the most expansive in the U.S., open to roughly 90 percent of students in the state. According to Ed Choice, a national non-profit, nonpartisan organization that tracks school choice policies across the country, the West Virginia program, called the Hope Scholarship, “has the potential to help tens of thousands of students obtain the educational services that best fit their needs. It is a model for other states to emulate.”

Like the West Virginia program, the Louisiana ESA proposals would deposit only the state portion of education dollars into a child’s account. In Louisiana, that’s roughly $5,500 per student. Students with disabilities would receive more to cover their costs of additional special education services. Families would be required to pay any required educational costs in excess of the ESA amount unless the school provides scholarships or need-based aid. In the state’s current school choice programs, many private schools do just that.

The bills also call for all students to take either the state’s LEAP test or a nationally norm-referenced test to inform the parent and the state of the child’s academic progress. Aggregate student results would be reported for the program overall and could also be reported by the provider, so long as such reporting protects individual students’ privacy.

As we showed in this video at last week’s 2022 Solutions Summit, families value having options. Kids need schools and educational programs that fit their needs. It’s outrageous that options exist in every other type of government service or program, but not K-12 education. The Child Care Assistance Program allows parents to use funding at the child care center that best meets their needs. Families can use SNAP benefits to buy groceries at a store of their choosing. College students use TOPS and Pell grants to pay tuition and fees at the college or university they choose to attend. Medicaid recipients can choose from among multiple providers in their community.

Perhaps it’s time for our education system to catch up.