By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) — Bills to give parents of certain students more educational options gained approval from the House Committee on Appropriations, while another broader proposal was shelved by the bill’s sponsor.
The House Committee on Appropriations voted unanimously to advance House bills 194 and 452, which would create state-funded Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) parents can use to educate their children outside of the public education system.
HB 194, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Butler, R-Ville Platte, would create ESAs for students with disabilities such as deafness, blindness or autism with the average per pupil state funding parents can use for tuition, tutoring, and educational services and supplies necessary to meet their child’s educational needs.
“Hundreds of emails have been sent to me from parents that are loving the option of this,” said Butler on Tuesday. She is a mother of a special needs child.
Several lawmakers with experience with special needs children thanked Butler for bringing the bill, which was opposed by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and Louisiana Progress Action. HB 194 is backed by the Pelican Institute, the American Federation for Children and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).
HB 452, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, would create the same ESA option for students who have documented at least two instances of bullying, or any student who is the victim of sexual assault.
“I think you all know that bullying … sometimes it’s a very, very serious issue,” Freiberg said. “For teens, it can mean suicide at the end, if they don’t feel comfortable about themselves, about their situations.”
“This is just an option for parents, it’s not a mandate,” she said.
HB 452 is also supported by the Pelican Institute, American Federation for Children, and LABI, as well as the Council for a Better Louisiana, among others. The bill was opposed by the LSBA, LAE, and Louisiana Progress Action.
A broader proposal to extend ESAs to all students, House Bill 824, did not make it out of committee. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Jefferson, voluntarily deferred the bill, which shelves the legislation for now but technically keeps the proposal alive.
“I believe we need to look at doing different things, but I understand when you do different things there’s a lot of trepidation in it,” she said. “I also understand that for some they would like to look at an incremental approach when looking at something new, so for that reason I’m going to voluntarily defer this bill.”
All three bills were approved by the House Education Committee in early April. HB 194 and 452 now move to the full House, which approved a similar ESA bill, House Bill 33, with a vote of 75-26 last week.
HB 33, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Devillier, R-Eunice, would provide ESAs for 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 now in the Senate Committee on Education.
Another ESA bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 203, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would provide the school choice option for students reading below grade level. SB 203 gained approval from the Senate Committee on Education in March and is now in the Senate Committee on Finance.