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Follow the money: Senate OKs plan to change who Louisiana pays to educate its kids

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BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Senate OK'd a bill that would transform the way the state pays to fund its children's educations, agreeing to let parents direct state dollars to private schools of their choice. 

Under the bill, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would determine how money would be distributed through education savings accounts available to every Louisiana child. The program, known as LA GATOR, would likely be challenged in court.

Gov. Jeff Landry says polls show that parents want their tax dollars to follow their children, rather than be spent in schools their kids don't attend. The Senate approved the plan on a 24-15 vote Thursday. It now goes to the House, which has approved a similar bill.

“I think it’s a big win for the kids of Louisiana, for parents out there who overwhelmingly, irrespective of party affiliation or economic means, have said in poll after poll after poll that the money should follow the child," Landry told Louisiana Illuminator.

The latest version of the bill puts BESE in charge of determining how much money will be needed to fund the voucher program. Legislators would still have to authorize whatever is spent.

Eligibility would expand over a three-year period. Those eligible at the start would be those in a program benefiting students from low-income families in poor-performing schools. By Year 3, all families could tap state funds.

The Legislature's fiscal staff says it will cost $260 million a year when all students are eligible. The Public Affairs Research Council puts the price tag at $520 million — twice the amount.

The governor has said funds currently off-limits because of state constitution mandates could be a potential source of money. He is proposing a constitutional convention this year.

The state is expected to spend more than $4 billion on public school educations in the next school year.

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