Dr. Janet Pope, Executive Director
Louisiana School Boards Association
After reading the Op/Ed by LA State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley published on March 13, 2023, I felt compelled to provide your readers with some information that Dr. Brumley omitted which may cause taxpayers to question his promotion of what he termed “ESAs”.
Louisiana has had education savings accounts for over 20 years. They are found in LA Revised Statutes 17:3091 – 3099.2. Most people probably know them by their acronyms, START and STARTK12. These are actual savings accounts where parents and grandparents put money in an account to save to pay post-secondary and K12 tuition. The State adds between 14% and 2% to the amount deposited. The percentage is based upon the student’s family income, with under $30,000 getting 14% and $100,000+ getting 2%. Under Louisiana’s existing education savings accounts, even wealthy parents get a small bit of taxpayer assistance toward private school tuition.
The ESAs (referred to in several bills filed with the legislature last year as education savings accounts) are, actually, nothing more than a new Voucher Program. Louisiana also already has a Voucher Program whereby the State pays private school tuition for eligible students. It is formally known as the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, found in LA Revised Statutes 17:4011 – 4025. This program began only in Orleans Parish but was expanded state-wide during the Jindal administration. The Legislature appropriated $42.2M in 2021-22 and $46.4M in 2022-23 for the Voucher Program. Two of the hallmarks of the Voucher Program are: (1) It is only available to students from low income families who otherwise could not afford private school tuition; and (2) The students are mandated to take the same State accountability tests as public school students, so that we can judge their academic performance in our State Accountability System.
The ESAs promoted by Supt. Brumley are more akin to a second Voucher Program, as they pay private school tuition, like a voucher, rather than merely assist parents in saving for educational expenses. Of note, unlike the Voucher Program, the ESAs proposed last year did not have a financial eligibility component and did not require students to take the State Accountability examinations. Governor Edwards cited those two issues when he vetoed the few ESAs that did pass the Legislature in 2022.
One might ask, other than those two reasons, why wouldn’t Supt. Brumley simply advocate for the expansion of the existing Voucher Program. The answer may be in the data that we have on the Voucher Program and student academic achievement. Another hallmark of the Voucher Program is that the schools get a score, the Scholarship Cohort Index (SCI), which is essentially the same as a School Performance Score. The participating voucher students take the State Accountability examinations, and their aggregate scores formulate the SCI. In Louisiana, a School Performance Score earns a letter grade that is published so parents, taxpayers and policy makers know the academic achievement of our students and the performance of our public schools. The letter grade scale for 2021-2022 is 90-150=A, 75-89.9=B, 60-74.9=C, 50-59.9=D, 0-49.9=F. A review of data from the Louisiana Department of Education website reveals that only 28 Voucher Schools received an SCI in 2022[i]. Of those 28 schools, none earned an A, one earned a B, 3 earned C’s, 11 earned a D, and 13 earned an F. That means that 85.7% of Voucher Schools that were assigned a score earned a D or an F. That would answer the question as to why the proposal touted by Supt. Brumley was to create a new voucher program because the current Voucher Program has been an academic failure for our students and an utter waste of taxpayer dollars. All the data cited in this article was found on the LA Department of Education’s website.
[i] Scholarship students are required to take all state assessments outlined in the Louisiana School and District Accountability System. Results are publicly reported and schools with an average of ten or more students per grade or 40 or more students enrolled in tested grades schools receive a Scholarship Cohort Index (SCI).