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Louisiana House committee approves education savings account program for victims of bullying

Legislation to provide student bullying and sexual assault victims with state funds to attend non-public schools cleared the Senate Education Committee this week.

Committee members voted 4-2 to approve House Bill 452, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, to create state-funded Education Savings Accounts parents can use to educate their children outside of the public education system.

The bill would provide about $5,500 to students who have documented at least two instances of bullying, or any student who is the victim of sexual assault, that can be used for tuition, tutoring, and educational services and supplies necessary to meet their child’s education needs.

Freiberg noted reports from a Texas school shooting this week that alleged the gunman had been bullied for years, as well as other deadly incidents involving bullied students.

“This is a tough situation for parents and for children and this is a way that parents and students can find an environment where they feel safe and where they can learn,” she said on Wednesday. “We know that Louisiana is ranked sixth in our number of bullying incidents and so we need to do something to address it.”

Erin Bendily, Vice President for Policy and Strategy at the Pelican Institute, testified in favor of HB 452.

“Every child should have the ability to go to school and feel safe and be able to focus their attention on learning, but we know that many cases, especially with social media today, that is just not the case,” she said. “If you have found yourself in that situation where a child fears for his or her safety, cannot focus on what’s happening in the classroom, it is a very difficult issue to get under control.”

Bendily noted that the bill offers not only a private school or home school option, “but also a public school option.”

“This would also take the current language in law that allows for a public school transfer and make it more workable … to that child would have more immediate relief to even request a transfer to another public school quicker than they can right now,” she said, adding that current law requires four documented incidents of bullying.

Bendily also pointed to a self-reported survey of Louisiana students that found 19% of high school students contend they were bullied on school property over the last year, while 15% reported cyber bullying and 13% reported skipping school at least once in the prior month due to bullying.

Eighteen percent of students in the survey said they contemplated suicide, while over 15% actually attempted it, she said.

“We really see this is a lifeline for those students, for their families,” Bendily said.

The Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, the Louisiana Association of Educators, and others opposed the bill.

“The superintendents’ association opposes vouchers and education savings accounts that divert state dollars to nonpublic schools and do not require the level of accountability that we have in the public school system,” LASS Executive Director Michael Faulk said.

“These programs limit access for economically disadvantaged families,” he said. “Under most of the proposals … the cost allocated for nonpublic education and services would be insufficient to completely fund education for a full academic year. This deficiency will likely result in limiting access only to those families who can afford to supplement the remaining uncovered cost.”

Faulk also noted the program would not provide transportation to the nonpublic schools.

HB 452 now heads to the full Senate for debate.

This article was originally posted on Louisiana House committee approves education savings account program for victims of bullying

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