Louisiana Senate Finance Committee kills two education savings account bills, advances another

(The Center Square) – Two bills to create Education Savings Accounts for certain students were held for study by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, effectively killing the bills for the…

(The Center Square) – Two bills to create Education Savings Accounts for certain students were held for study by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, effectively killing the bills for the current session, while another bill advanced.

House Bill 33, sponsored by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, would have created ESAs with the average per-pupil state funding allotment for specific students that parents can use for educational expenses outside of the public education system.

The bill would have applied to children of military families, those in foster care and students attending D- or F-rated schools that have been denied a transfer to higher-rated schools. HB 33 is one of numerous ESA bills moving through the Legislature this session.

“There are so many (ESA) bills, we don’t know what kind of effect they’re going to have,” said committee Chair Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge. “I think what we want to do with some of these bills, since (Sen.) Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell,) already has a bill out and it’s funded, … we want to study these between now and next year and see how that one does and see how it’s starting to work out.”

White made a motion to study, which was approved without objection.

“You’re not the only one,” White said. “We’re not just picking on you.”

DeVillier pointed out HB 33 is the same bill that passed the House and Senate last year, but ran out of time in the Senate Finance Committee.

“I just worry about the kids that are failing schools, D or F schools that were denied transfers, and they’re not given an ability to have another option,” he said.

“Understand our position,” White said. “We received 200 or 300 bills in the last day. It’s impossible to go through them all one by one and figure out how to finance them and that’s our job is to finance them.

“It’s not a bad bill, … but I think that all of these bills we’ve got to look at them,” he said. “I think the state has to look at them and see what they’re doing, to our finances, to our schools and where we are.”

Committee members also opted to study HB 452, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, to create ESAs for students with at least two documented incidents of bullying, or any student who is the victim of sexual assault.

“I would argue that if you’re going to study the effect these ESA bills, this one would be a good one to see what happens with the bullying and the sexual assault,” Freiberg said. “I’m suggesting … you fund it and that you use it to study what actually happens.”

The committee ultimately decided to hold the bill without objection.

Another ESA bill, HB 194, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Butler, R-Ville Platte, did gain approval by the committee after emotional testimony from one parent.

The bill creates the same ESAs for students with disabilities such as deafness, blindness, or autism.

“This isn’t a cookie-cutter situation for us as parents,” said Butler, who is the mother of a disabled child. “There are children that for so many reasons just can’t be in a public school.”

All of the ESA bills were supported by the Pelican Institute and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and others. The bills were opposed by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Association of Educators, and public school advocates.

An ESA bill for students who are not reading at grade level by third grade, Senate Bill 203, sponsored by Hewitt, is scheduled for final approval in the House today, while a broader bill to provide ESAs as an option for all students, HB 824, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Jefferson, was voluntarily deferred by Schlegel in late April.