(The Center Square) – A new Index of State Education Freedom from ALEC ranks Louisiana 14th nationally with a C letter grade, though school choice advocates are working to improve for 2024.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the nation’s “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism,” released the index last week. The analysis replaces its longstanding Report Card on American Education.
Louisiana’s overall score of 56.5 out of 100 was the highest among a dozen states that earned a C letter grade, behind 10 states that earned B’s and three that earned A’s. Florida, Arkansas, and Indiana each got an A, while New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts earned the lowest scores among the F’s.
A breakdown of the five major categories in the index shows Louisiana was 12th for homeschooling with a B, 13th for charter schools with a B, 14th for virtual learning with a C, 15th for open enrollment with a C, and 19th for school funding and financing with a D.
Andrew Handel, who directs ALEC’s Education and Workforce Development Task Force, highlighted several ways Louisiana could improve its ranking.
With program funding, Handel noted Louisiana’s tuition donation credit program is available to less than 50% of students, with scholarship values capped by the legislature.
“This could improve if the state expended it universally and removed the scholarship cap or, better yet, created a universal (education savings account) program,” he wrote in an email to The Center Square.
Ensuring charter schools receive similar funding to traditional public schools would bump the state to an A in that category, while removing the requirement that parents notify their school district when they are homeschooling would do the same for that category, he wrote.
For virtual schools, a statewide virtual school option and state-level approval process for online courses would improve the C score to an A. Ensuring public schools accept open enrollment transfers when space is available would also boost Louisiana’s open enrollment score, Handel wrote.
Erin Bendily, vice president of policy and strategy for the Pelican Institute, told The Center Square that Louisiana school choice advocates are “actually working on a few things … that could significantly improve (the ALEC) rating in terms of expanding choices for families in a number of ways.”
The institute continues to support efforts to establish universal savings accounts and expanded public school choice for students in low performing schools that were included in House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, during the 2023 session. That bill ultimately died in the Senate Education Committee in May.
With charter schools, advocates are working to streamline the application process, and to reform a current corporate charter school model that allows businesses to partner with schools and give priority to children of employees.
Only two corporate charter schools have taken root, with another on the way, in the decade since they were created, in part due to limits involving required local public school district appoval and geographic restrictions on students who can attend.
Another focus for the 2024 session, Bendily said, centers on course choice, an initiative that would allow junior high and high school students to use state funds to take classes online or at community colleges that their public school doesn’t offer.