Then-Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry

Then-Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry testifies during a hearing in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, March 30, 2023.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In 'Abandonment of Public Education,' Louisiana to Allow Tax Dollars to Pay for Private Schools

"We must build and maintain a public education system that serves all children," said one Democratic lawmaker.

After an aggressive push by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, the Louisiana Senate advanced a bill this week that would allow public funds to be used for private school tuition—sending what one Democrat called an "abandonment" of the state's public schools to the state House, where it is expected to pass.

The state Senate approved the Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise (LA GATOR) Scholarship Program in a vote of 25-15 on Thursday, with just four Republicans joining the Democratic Party in opposing the bill.

The program would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to create "education savings accounts" (ESAs), which would give families state tax dollars to pay for private school tuition, uniforms, and other expenses.

The grants would first be available to low-income families and special education students, but in the program's third year the ESAs are set to be available to all Louisiana families.

The legislation was briefly shelved this week over concerns about its cost, but Landry, backed by right-wing groups and donors, used television ads to push his party to support the ESAs.

Landry went as far as suggesting lawmakers could revise the state constitution to end a restriction mandating that certain public funds are set aside for K-12 public schools. He called on the state Senate to hold a special convention to do so, in order to unlock funding for the $520 million yearly cost of the LA GATOR program.

Moments before the Senate voted on Thursday, state Sen. Royce Duplessis (D-5) said the bill was "nothing short of an abandonment of public education."

"We as a state are making the decision and taking the step to say that it's too hard, it's too complex" to fund public schools, said Duplessis.

Landry told the Louisiana Illuminator that the success of the bill was "a big win for the kids of Louisiana," but local school board members, teachers, and superintendents lobbied Republicans ahead of the vote to protect funding for public schools, where a majority of students in the state are educated.

"These universal voucher bills are a step in the wrong direction," Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, toldPublic News Service earlier this month. "We've seen in other states around the country, like Arizona and Ohio, where these bills have been passed, [schools are] now facing a budget crisis, and we're hoping that we cannot go down that same road."

"If we're cutting that funding stream, Louisiana students will have fewer nurses and counselors, less options for after school programs, and certainly limited access to field trips and AP courses that help prepare them for their next step in life," he added.

Louisiana-based journalist Dayne Sherman said the LA Gator program will provide a lesson in "how to starve your local Louisiana public school, Clownfish-style."

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