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Louisiana’s universal education savings account program set to launch in 2025

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(The Center Square) — Louisiana’s new education savings account program will debut in August 2025, but plenty of work remains before it becomes a universal program for Pelican State K-12 students.

The Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise Scholarship Program was signed into law by Gov. Jeff Landry on June 19 and provides educational savings accounts to parents so they can have more choice in what school their children will attend.

The funds can also be used for tutors, online school tuition, curriculum or even to fund a hybrid program where a student attends a private school part time.

Senate Bill 313, authored by Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, will replace the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program after the 2024-2025 school year.

Phase one of the GATOR initiative will prioritize students who participated in the SSEE program.

Phase two will then arrange for children entering kindergarten and students who were enrolled in public school the previous year. All three phases, but especially phase three, will help families at or below 250% of the federal poverty line.

State Superintendent Cade Brumley says the start of the final two phases is still yet to be decided.

“It may take a year, two years, three years, it just depends on the appropriations allocated for the program,” Brumley told The Center Square.

Brumley also specified that the program is completely funded by state appropriations that are separate from the Minimum Foundation Program formula, which calculates equitable distribution of K-12 funds to school districts.

The Legislature will provide an annual line item allocated for GATOR scholarships, with the number of students served dependent on the appropriations.

“One of the things that was said many times is that this program will be a program of runaway spending,” Brumley said. “But the only way the program can grow is if the Legislature allocates the funding for that to happen. The Legislature through the appropriation process is in complete control of that rope.”

Before phase one can begin in the fall of 2025, Brumley says the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will have to promulgate specific rules around eligibility, dollar amounts, program providers and any other technical processes. Brumley’s office will start making those recommendations this fall.

“You can look at it like the state Legislature said ‘Hey, here is the game that has to be played’ and then the state board of education has to go in and write the specific rules for that game,” Brumley said.

EdChoice, a national organization, and the Pelican Institute, a Louisiana institution, both supported the GATOR program. Nathan Sanders, the policy and advocacy director of EdChoice, says Louisiana is the 12th state to go universal.

Sanders also addressed the issues private schools could face with high demand. He said private schools and charters are still allowed to maintain their autonomy when it comes to enrollment and admissions.

“We’ve seen pretty decent growth with all these states, but you never really see schools busting at the seams,” Sanders told The Center Square. “At the end of the day, parents are gonna find an option and data shows growth will happen and parents will have even more options down the road.”

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers put out a statement saying the GATOR program is fiscally irresponsible and will devastate the public school system by diverting public dollars to private schools.

Erin Bendily, the vice president of policy and strategy at Pelican Institute, thinks a big reason teachers are vocalizing a problem with GATOR is because it will hold them accountable to a higher standard.

“It boils down to competition. Now they are going to have to work extra hard to earn the privilege to serve kids and families in their communities,” Bendily told The Center Square. “This should not be seen as an anti-public school policy. This is a pro-child policy.”

Sanders believes it’s a matter of educating teachers and families on the importance of the bill.

“It’s going to be up to everyone to educate how the program works, how to apply, but over the years it will be more accepted,” Sanders said.

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