Louisiana Democrat supports school choice bill, says he can’t ignore kids ‘trapped in failing schools’

While often labeled a one-party issue, school choice is widely supported among constituents across the political spectrum. Support among state leaders can get a bit one-sided, but there have been Democratic governors and legislators who buck their party’s trend and prioritize students over systems. (Unfortunately, Minnesota isn’t yet on that list.)

The latest example comes to us out of Louisiana, when Democratic Rep. Jason Hughes announced his vote for a school choice bill that would bring Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to the state. The Louisiana Appropriations Committee passed the bill on a 13-9 vote, with Rep. Hughes being the only Democrat to vote in support.

During the committee meeting, Rep. Hughes responded to opposition against the bill from Danny Garrett, an executive council member of the Louisiana School Board Association, by saying:

“I can’t close my eyes to the 67 percent of 3rd graders in public schools who cannot read. I cannot close my eyes to the number of kids living in poverty in our state that are trapped in failing schools. Okay? So, what do those families do? When a child is trapped in a failing school, a parent is working a minimum wage job, they can’t afford to do anything but leave their child in that failing school. What do we do? Do we just say, ‘I’m sorry’ and leave the child in the failing school? What is the alternative for that child?”

ESAs allow parents to direct state education dollars allocated for their child toward a variety of state-approved educational services, such as tuition at an alternative learning environment, tutoring, special education services and therapy, mental health treatment, and transportation, to name a few.

The ESA model is the most personally customizable education option of existing types of school choice programs, and helps remove financial barriers that would otherwise prevent a family from accessing the learning environment that best sets their child up for success.

Louisiana’s ESA bill now heads to the House floor. If enacted, Louisiana would join the growing list of states providing families the opportunity to participate in an ESA program.

A Minnesota ESA bill was introduced this session in the Senate and the House, but it has not received a committee hearing. As of spring 2023, 53 percent of the state’s 3rd graders weren’t reading at grade level, as measured by the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment.