After 4 years and 12 separate bills and legislative resolutions, the Louisiana Legislature has finally passed a universal education savings account program to expand K-12 educational options for Louisiana students and their families. Senate Bill 313 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Rick Edmonds creates the state’s first universal education savings account (ESA) program and the 12th such program in the United States. The program is named after Louisiana’s official state reptile: the “Giving All True Opportunity to Rise” (GATOR) Scholarship Program.

The Governor has expressed his enthusiastic support of Senate Bill 313 and is expected to sign it into law soon.

How will ESAs work, and what’s next?

Beginning as early as August 2025 (with families signing up in Spring 2025), they would allow Louisiana families, on a voluntary basis, to receive state funds to pay for educational expenses to meet their child’s individual needs. Priority will be given to students from low-income households, entering kindergarteners, and students enrolled in a public school the prior school year during in the first few years of the program.

Although the press has largely focused on families’ ability to use funds to pay for tuition at private schools, the program actually gives families many more options. They can use ESA funds to hire instructors or tutors, enroll their child in an online/virtual educational program, purchase curriculum and other instructional materials, build a hybrid program consisting of homebased education and attending a public or private school part-time, or design an educational program that is entirely homebased.

Participating schools, providers, and vendors will have to meet certain requirements, and funds must be used on approved educational expenses.

This immense flexibility is what makes and ESAs different than vouchers. They don’t just give families a choice between private or public schooling. They empower them to select or design the form of education that best fits their child’s unique needs, within parameters set by lawmakers and state regulators.

The regulators are the elected and appointed members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). The ESA legislation requires the board to determine per-student funding and make an annual budget request for overall program funding, which must then be approved by the legislature. It also directs BESE to “provide eligibility criteria for both schools and service providers in program rules in a way that maximizes school and provider participation” so that families will have access to many diverse educational options beyond the largest private schools in urban centers.

With this authority and legislative directive, BESE has an immense opportunity to make Louisiana’s GATOR Scholarship Program one of the most innovative and expansive ESA programs in the United States, allowing families to customize their child’s education around their strengths, needs, and interests, and growing a large market of schools and educational service providers to meet those demands over time, including in rural areas.

We are excited and hopeful about this new chapter in Louisiana’s comeback story and look forward to strong implementation of the GATOR Scholarship Program by our state’s education leaders. We also want to thank Governor Landry, Senator Edmonds, Representative Julie Emerson, and the many lawmakers and partners who have worked tirelessly over the years to achieve this incredible victory for Louisiana’s children and families.