By Emily Wood
BATON ROUGE—A bill to make kindergarten mandatory in Louisiana passed the House Appropriations Committee 19-1 Monday.
“I have worked tirelessly on this bill,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge. “It is the most important one I have worked on during this session. It is something we must do for our children.”
The committee debated whether or not the bill, Senate Bill 10, was necessary since it would only increase enrollment by about 2,800 students, or 4%. That would cost the state and its public schools about $8 million.
Other students affected by the law would attend private schools or be in a home-schooling program.
Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, voted against the bill, saying some home-school curricula would not be rigorous enough and parents could get away with not schooling their children at home.
Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, advocated for the bill, stating that the sooner children are in school, the better off they will be later in their educational careers.
“It is embarrassing to go to those meetings and see how far behind our children in Louisiana are,” said Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, referring to his position on the Southern Regional Education Board.
The bill previously passed through the Senate floor and the House Committee on Education. It will now be heard on the House floor for what could be the final debate.
House Bill 452, which would create a domestic abuse fatality review team, also passed the Appropriations Committee Monday.
“Louisiana has one of the highest rates of domestic fatalities in the nation,” said bill author Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge. “We are one of three states that does not have a review panel within their department of health.”
The domestic abuse fatality team would review the nature and patterns of domestic abuse fatalities as well records of agencies responsible for investigating deaths or treating victims.
The committee would recommend improvements for public and private systems that serve victims of domestic abuse and suggest prevention programs to the governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate.
The team also would establish local and regional panels across the state to help identify and review data and patterns of abuse.
The bill would cost about $1 million from the state general fund over a five-year period, but the Louisiana Department of Health could apply for grants to help offset the cost.
The bill will next be heard on the House floor.
Senate Bill 211, authored by Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, also passed through the Appropriations Committee quickly. The bill would mandate one-hour of trauma training for all public-school teachers.
The training would teach them how to spot signs of trauma in students who might have been abused at home or elsewhere. It also will show the teachers how to respond to the needs of those students.
The bill would cost the state about $1 million over a five-year period. It will move to the House floor.