BATON ROUGE — The House Education Committee voted 7-4 Tuesday to advance a bill to place state money into accounts that parents could use to send children to private schools.
The committee also moved forward bills to confirm that teaching the Bible is legal and to make data about how public schools are spending their funds more easily available to the public.
The bill to create the education accounts was authored by the committee’s chairman, state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria. If it becomes law, the bill, House Bill 98, would enhance a longtime conservative goal of giving parents’ greater options if they want to send children to private school or home-school them.
Critics contend that the bill could take away money that public schools need.
Under the proposal, the state would fund each student’s account with an amount equal to the state's average per-pupil allocation for public schools.
The House Education Committee also voted 7-4 Tuesday to advance House Bill 68 by state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, to authorize public high schools to offer an elective course in Bible history.
Teaching Bible history is already legal and being done in multiple school systems. Supporters of bill said they want to make sure that public schools knew they could teach it.
State Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, brought House Bill 462 to improve spending transparency. It is identical to one that died on the Senate floor last year.
“A very simple tool for transparency purposes that tells our people how their tax dollars are being spent,” Edmonds said. “And I think our people are crying out for it.”
The bill would require school districts and the state treasurer to detail school spending on their websites.
Edmonds said that Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and Lafayette parishes have started looking into making this information public.
“I would certainly support this bill because I think that the perception that districts are misusing their money is a perception,” state Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, said. “I think districts are using their money well, but certainly it would help public relations for school districts, for anyone who is concerned by how schools are spending their money if they had something like this in place.”
Mike Faulk, executive director for Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, opposed the bill. Faulk said schools are already highly regulated, and this bill would place an undue burden on overworked staff.
Edmonds said the bill “ultimately brings confidence to our constituents” and could increase their willingness to spend more on education.
“The more we build trust, the better we are,” he said.