Vernon School Board voices opposition to education savings accounts

Published 9:22 am Thursday, March 28, 2024

By Emily Burleigh

The Vernon Parish School Board has expressed opposition to the education savings account legislation that is being debated during the 2024 regular legislative session: HB 745 and SB 313.

On Wednesday, the board released a resolution that urges the Vernon Parish legislative delegation to “vote no on any bill proposing an Education Savings Account.”

If the bills were instituted, the Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise (LA GATOR) would be created. This program would make educational savings accounts (ESAs) that would allow parents to use public funds for private school, charter schools and homeschool programs, in addition to other education expenses like tutoring, educational therapies, textbooks, transportation uniforms and textbooks and curriculum.

The bills have been passed through both the House and Senate education committees, and vocal opposition has followed, with critics saying that diverting tax dollars from public schools would be detrimental.

VPSB is one of several Louisiana school boards that has spoken out. The resolution stated that creating ESAs “without fully funding public schools disadvantages” Louisiana students and schools, and criticized the state for failing to “adequately fund K-12 public education” over the past 20 years.

In a letter drafted on March 22, VPSO Superintendent James Williams said that LA GATOR would fund private and charter schools and homeschool programs without the standards that public schools are held to.

“Some of these outlets do not even provide special education services to students who are entitled to them under federal law. Most of the special services are at a very high cost.”

Another overarching criticism is a lack of transparency regarding the bills.

“There are a lot of questions that are unanswered and much information that is misleading. Please consider these facts before voting to approve these bills.”

Williams requested that lawmakers prioritize raising teacher salaries, fully funding the Minimum Foundation Program  – the formula that determines the cost of education in public elementary and secondary schools – and working for a “more equitable accountability system.”

Providing public funding for private schools has been a priority for Gov. Jeff Landry. The Advocate reports that he and his office worked with lawmakers to draft the bills, and that the legislation is backed by “influential conservative groups” like Louisiana Family Forum, the Pelican Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

On Tuesday, after the bill passed through the House education committee, Landry stated on his Facebook page that he has said from “day one” that “parents are the most important voice in their child’s education.”

“From day one, I have said that parents are the most important voice in their child’s education. The GATOR Scholarship will finally put parents in the driver’s seat and give children from every corner of the state an opportunity to receive the quality education they deserve.”