SADOW: Good ESA Bills Expose Louisiana’s Big Government Hypocrisy

If trying to make seismic policy changes, you can’t do it all at once, but where you can start in one instance has brought a bonus of exposing the hypocrisy of the opposition.

Over the past two weeks, the Louisiana House of Representatives has made notable progress in expanding educational choice for deserving families. Last week, it passed on to the Senate HB 33 by Republican state Rep. Phillip Devillier, which establishes education savings accounts (ESA) 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. ESAs would take an amount equal to the state’s average per-pupil allocation as provided in the Minimum Foundation Program formula, considering all student characteristics, and set them aside for family use in education at a qualifying nonpublic school.

Presenting this opportunity to these families seems appropriate. Children with a parent actively serve in the military and in foster families often have to switch schools frequently and can benefit from the extra flexibility the ESA provides. Children who otherwise may qualify for transfer out of poorer-performing schools but who can’t find space at another public school also would have increased options for a better education.

This week, the House Education Committee advanced two other bills utilizing the ESA concept. HB 194 by GOP state Rep. Rhonda Butler would extend it to disabled students at the MFP-determined amount for students with these exceptionalities. HB 452 by Republican state Rep. Barbara Freiburg would extend it to children victimized by bullying as another option for relief when determined a child has been victimized. The former may find better accommodation for special needs going this route, and the latter may find it helpful to secure a place in a welcoming educational environment.

And these complement another bill working its way through committees across the way. SB 203 by GOP state Sen. Sharon Hewitt would open up ESAs to students reading below grade level, who could make a move to another, higher-performing school to improve their chances of attaining better skills.

Unfortunately but understandably, the wider-ranging HB 824 by Republican state Rep. Laurie Schlegel that would have made any student eligible for an ESA was pulled by the author after one committee approved it. Sensing that might be a move too far too fast, she decided discretion was the better part of valor and deferred it so policy-makers could pass more limited measures like the others and see how these turned out before potentially going all the way.

For these obvious reasons, all the active bills merit enactment – but not according to organizations who frequently assert that they support better educational outcomes for all. Opposing all the House bills are the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and Louisiana Progress Action. LSBA represents the 69 local education agency policy-makers, LAE is a teachers union, and Louisiana Progress Action and its affiliates hold themselves out as “progressive” groups to “move Louisiana forward without leaving anyone behind.”

Their opposition illuminates a breathtaking hypocrisy among them all. The bills clearly try to advance the prospects of some of the very people Louisiana Progress Action alleges it wants to avoid “leaving … behind,” while LSBA and LAE regularly proclaim they work to improve education for all – usually by pleas for more taxpayer dollars and authority.

Which exposes them as emperors without clothes. The only “solutions” they crave are empowering government, not parents and children, because it fulfills their need for power and/or ideological agenda. Research on similar programs in other states shows ESAs allowing greater choice to parents to their greater satisfaction, can save states money, and, although the novelty of such programs (only a handful of states have these) hasn’t allowed time for research specific to ESAs to occur in this area, should mirror other school choice programs in producing better student outcomes over time.

But ESAs also take money and power out of the hands of the Soviet educational model advocated by these groups, despite positive outcomes for children who need help and their families. On this issue, lawmakers should ignore such groups who look out for their own selfish interests rather than aiding families and children.

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