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Amended education savings account bill passes House

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(The Center Square) – An amended education savings account bill has passed the Louisiana House of Representatives.

The legislation is headed back to the Senate for concurrence after the lower chamber’s 67-29 passage. If approved, Senate Bill 313 goes to Gov. Jeff Landry.

“Unlocking access to education that fits individual learner’s needs has made great progress this session and AFP is thrilled that principled leaders have supported the GATOR scholarship program in the House and Senate,” said Scott Simon, the Louisiana director of Americans For Prosperity. “We’re thankful for legislative leaders who have stood behind families’ rights to direct funds to the school or learning environment that works best for their children.

“Empowered families will lead to brighter futures for Louisiana students, and we commend today’s vote that gets us one step closer to that goal.”

SB313, sponsored by Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, would create the Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise program, also known as GATOR. This program would allocate the state per-student cost plus a special education weight of 150% for those children to parents for qualifying education expenses such as tuition.

The bill would require program funds be separate from the state’s constitutionally-mandated K-12 funding formula, the Minimum Foundation Program. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would also have to craft and enact rules if the bill is signed into law.

Like its companion bill House Bill 745, the legislation would replace an existing voucher program for students in failing schools with a universal program in a three-phase program, covering those in poverty and with a disability first before extending to all students.

If SB313 becomes law, it’ll have to be financed outside the state’s normal K-12 education funding formula at considerable expense.

According to a brief filed by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, the program could cost taxpayers $520 million annually to provide a minimum scholarship of $5,190 per year for students who aren’t disabled ($15,099) or living in poverty ($7,550).

The fiscal note prepared by legislative staff says SB313’s “specific costs are unknown at this time” because analysts said the implementation timeline and the amount of deposits for the education savings accounts were unknown.

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