May 30, 2024 - Education

Louisiana to pay for private school tuition with tax dollars — but program cost, timeline unclear

Illustration of a chalkboard shaped like a dollar sign

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Louisiana parents could one day get state money to pay for private school tuition, uniforms, tutoring or other expenses with a bill working its way through the statehouse.

Why it matters: The bill, SB313, is a big priority for Gov. Jeff Landry, so should it land on his desk, it'll likely get his signature — even while lawmakers don't know how much the program will cost taxpayers or when it'll be rolled out to Louisiana families.

The big picture: Private school enrollment in New Orleans is on the rise, according to American Community Survey data.

  • Statewide, 21% of Louisiana students were enrolled in private schools in 2022.
  • About 5,600 students use the state's school voucher program, which pays private school tuition for low-income families whose children attend poor-performing schools, the Illuminator reports.

Zoom in: The bill would form the LA GATOR program, offering "education savings accounts" for parents to use for qualifying private school expenses, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

  • But the legislation leaves a lot of gaps for state leaders to fill, like how much tuition money to give parents and a timeline on when families could become eligible.

Follow the money: Legislative fiscal staffers said an earlier version of the bill, which did include that information, was estimated to cost the state about $260 million annually, the Illuminator reported, but an estimate from the Public Affairs Research Council pegged it closer to $520 million per year.

  • The current version of the bill makes it impossible to come up with a cost estimate, according to the fiscal staff.
  • For now, the Illuminator reports, the bill carries a $1.8 million price tag just to set up the LA Gators program.
  • Landry's administration would have to get state lawmakers onboard with any further spending.

Yes, but: Landry has promised all Louisiana families will eventually be eligible for the funds.

  • The legislation "ensures school choice and empowers parents to choose the learning environments that align with their values and work best for their children!" Landry wrote on social media.

What's next: The bill awaits Senate concurrence before it goes to Landry's desk.

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