Lafayette, LA (KPEL News) - The Louisiana House of Representatives has approved a bill (HB 745) that would establish an Education Savings Account program to allow state funding to be used for qualified educational expenses, including private school tuition and other qualified education expenses. The proposed law creates the Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise or LA GATOR scholarship program, authored by Carencro Representative Julie Emerson.

Local public school officials across the state are taking exception to the program and vocalizing their discontent in a variety of ways. Lafayette Parish has joined the cacophony. The school board approved a resolution at its regular meeting on April 10 that didn't mince words in expressing their opposition to HB 745.

Resolution 04-024-2091 urges:

... the Lafayette Parish legislative delegation to vote NO on any bill proposing an Education Savings Account, and otherwise to provide with respect thereto.

The document cites lack of accountability and "little to no oversight" as two of the board's main concerns, while emphasizing that public school systems have been mandated to perform at the testing and other levels set by the state. It refers to the legislation as "irresponsible public policy."

The Lafayette Parish School Board's resolution makes it clear that they see the ESA program as a diversion of state dollars to private and other schools without fully funding the public school systems, a belief supported in the document with firm, direct language:

... for the past 20 years, the state has failed to adequately fund K-12 public education....

The Public Affairs Research Council has estimated the long-term costs of the LA GATOR program to be $520-million annually, once its fully implemented in 2029. Proponents say that amount is inaccurate. The legislative fiscal notes provided for each bill under consideration indicate that the programs creation and implementation:

... will result in a significant increase in state governmental expenditures.

The notes do emphasize that the financial impact is difficult to estimate because of the number of variables, like how many parents would participate in the program. However, their calculations indicate a cost of about $278-million when the ESA program is fully implemented, an amount nearly half of PAR's figure.

A group representing Louisiana's superintendents sent a letter to the Legislature that stated the ESA program:

... poses a significant threat to the stability and viability of our public school system.

Meanwhile, a similar bill authored by Senator Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge is moving through the Senate. Based on the rhetoric coming from the Capitol, the outcry from local education leaders may be falling on deaf ears. Senator Edmonds told

We are going to get it done. Period.

Lafayette Parish School superintendent Francis Touchet will have a certified copy of the board's resolution opposing the LA GATOR program delivered to each member of the parish's legislative delegation.

The second reading of HB 745 on the Senate floor is scheduled for April 15.

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