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Bill to allow families public money for education watered down, study set

State Sen. Rick Edmonds proposed slowing down his proposal for education savings accounts. (Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Senate)

BATON ROUGE — The Senate Finance Committee voted 4-3 Thursday to pass an amended version of the education savings account program backed by Gov. Jeff Landry, slowing down its implementation and possibly setting the stage for it to be smaller than originally envisioned.

 

The education savings account program, called LA GATOR, would allow families to apply for state funding to send their children to private schools of their choice.

 

State Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, on Monday proposed overhauling the plan he had sponsored through a set of amendments. They call for a study of Louisiana’s existing educational resources to determine how to best implement an education savings account program instead of rushing into it. The study would be completed by Dec. 1.

 

“That will give us the data that we’re looking for, to make certain that we're moving forward correctly,” Edmonds said. “A lot of that data I think brings a lot of comfort to folks.”

 

The education savings accounts, which could cost taxpayers several hundred million dollars a year, were one of Landry’s priorities. With part of the state sales tax expiring next year and potentially reducing state revenue by up to $500 million, the delay now sought by Edmonds would give legislators more time to decide how much money to devote to the plan.

 

The study will be conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education and the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They will determine the need for an education savings account program and develop rules and regulations.

 

If the board decides to implement the program, it will make recommendations to the Legislature about how to transition students from the current voucher program, Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence.

 

Additionally, if the state board approves an education saving account program, it will be subject to appropriations of funds from the Legislature each year.

 

The amendments came after criticism from school boards, superintendents and other lawmakers who believe that the program, as originally envisioned, would divert needed funds from public schools and cost far too much.

 

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that the education savings accounts could cost the state more than $250 million a year by the third year. Outside experts have estimated that the cost could reach $350 million to $500 million a year.

 

The only cost under the amended bill would be $1.8 million in administrative funds.

 

The House has already passed its own version of an education savings account bill, but it has not been heard in the Senate yet.

 

Some members of the Senate committee expressed concern over the lack of accountability measures in the amended bill. Edmonds said he would work on adding those measures before the bill goes to the Senate floor.

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