Louisiana’s Edwards vetoes two education savings account bills

(The Center Square) – Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed 17 bills this week, including measures aimed at helping students with disabilities and those struggling to learn to read.

Edwards rejected both Senate Bill 203, to create education savings accounts for students who are struggling to read in public schools that parents could have used to find better educational options, as well as House Bill 194, which would have done the same for students with disabilities.

The bills vetoed on Monday were among numerous ESA bills considered in the recent legislative session that would have allowed parents to use about $5,500 in state funding to pursue private schools or to use for educational expenses like tutors, textbooks and other materials to learn from home.

Both SB 203, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell and HB 194, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Butler, R-Ville Platte, were backed by the Pelican Institute and received broad support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Edwards opposed both bills because they “would potentially divert Minimum Foundation Program funds (state education funding) for students to attend non-public schools,” and alleged they would “allow the children of wealthy parents to attend private schools subsidized by taxpayer dollars,” according to his veto message.

Supporters of the bills noted repeatedly in committee hearings that local and federal education funds would remain when ESA students leave, which would result in more per-pupil funding for those schools.

Edwards also alleged a lack of accountability to parents and the public, despite measures in the bills designed to monitor education providers and funding.

With SB 203, Edwards alleged language in the bill that would provide ESAs to students “not reading on grade level” could allow for those reading above grade level to game the system.

“While this may have not been intended, this bill does have this effect,” Edwards wrote.

With HB 194, Edwards argued “the bill does not clearly provide for the students who may qualify for this program.

“I believe that the bill is simply too broad in its application to all students with exceptionalities,” he wrote. “Given this expansive definition, there will be too many students eligible for this program at too great a cost to the public school system.”

Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute, issued a statement on Monday highlighting what the vetoes will mean for students struggling in Louisiana’s public education system.

“We are disappointed that Governor Edwards has vetoed HB194 and SB203 which would have helped kids with disabilities or kids not reading on grade level have tailored educational options. For too long, our state has ranked close to last when it comes to educational outcomes,” Erspamer wrote.

“Bold reforms like education savings accounts would help get our kids into schools that best fit their needs so they can have bright futures. Although the Governor has made it clear he wants to fund systems instead of our kids, we will continue to work to ensure every kid has the chance to succeed in the classroom,” he wrote.

Other Edwards vetoes included measures to make it a crime to discriminate based on vaccination status, to improve election integrity with a supplemental annual canvass, to increase penalties for those convicted in the death of a peace officer or first responder and to better track criminals who manufacture methamphetamine.

Edwards also vetoed bills to shield places of worship from emergency restrictions more severe than those for businesses, to improve the process for challenging tax assessments and to automatically revoke bond for violent criminals who commit additional crimes while out on bail.

A full list of bills vetoed by Edwards on Monday is available on the governor’s website.