Jeff Landry signs education bills that promise to bring 'drastic change.' See the list. (2024)

  • By PATRICK WALL | Staff writer and ASHLEY WHITE | Staff writer
  • 5 min to read

Gov. Jeff Landry took a victory lap Wednesday as he signed a series of education billsinto law that he promised will transform schooling in Louisiana.

The “Dream Big” package of nearly 20 bills mostly impacts the landscape of K-12 education in the state and puts the focus back on students, he said. The new laws would send more public tax dollars to private schools, require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms and bar talk about gender identity or sexual orientation in school, among other changes.

“Today, we fulfill our promise to bring drastic reform to our educational system and bring common sense back to our classrooms,” Landry said to a roomful of supporters, state legislators, parents and students at Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette.

Many of the education bills signed Wednesday were among the most controversial in the three-month legislative session that ended June 3. Proposals aimed at LGBTQ+ children incensed LGBTQ+ families and advocacy organizations, while the plan to place the Ten Commandments in classrooms sparked the ire of groups that advocate for the separation of church and state, as is outlined in the Constitution.

The governor’s signing of the latter bill on Wednesday triggered lawsuit threats hours later from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana, as well as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

"The First Amendment promises that we all get to decide for ourselves what religious beliefs, if any, to hold and practice, without pressure from the government," the groups said in a joint statement.

"Politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools."

Landry’s allies in the Legislature have balked at claims that the bill violates federal law, saying that the intent of such displays is to honor state and national history and culture. At a Republican fundraiser in Tennessee last week, Landry said he “can’t wait to be sued” over the proposal.

ESA bill, LGBTQ+ bills

Landry also on Wednesday signed into law his signature achievement this session, a bill that, in theory, will give state tax dollars to any parent who wants to send their children to private school. But it was only a partial victory.

After fierce resistance from critics who said the program would dismantle public education and decimate the state budget, lawmakers passed a comprise a bill that was far more modest than what Landry and his conservative allies — including some influential GOP donors — had sought.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, will create new taxpayer-funded vouchers to subsidize students’ private education. The new vouchers, known as “education savings accounts,” or ESAs, will replace Louisiana’s existing voucher system, which pays for students from low-income families to attend private school.

The ESA program, named LA GATOR, will offer parents more flexibility: In addition to private school tuition, they can spend the state grants on tutoring, textbooks, special-education services or other approved expenses.

Initially, the money would go to low-income families, students with disabilities and students seeking to transfer out of public schools. But eventually, any parent might be able to apply for the subsidies regardless of financial need and even if their children already attend private school.

However, it's unclear when — or if — that will happen.

To secure the bill’s passage, Landry and his allies agreed to remove language that made all families eligible for vouchers by the program’s third year in operation. Now, the state board of education will set the timeline for expanding eligibility.

Most significantly, the Legislature will decide each year how much state money to spend on the vouchers. If all students become eligible, including the tens of thousands who already attend private school, the program could cost well over $500 million per year, according to an estimate by the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

That change allowed the state flexibility, Edmonds said Wednesday, and is one of the things that sets the program apart from those used in other states.

With the state staring at a major budget shortfall next year when a sales tax is set to expire — and with public colleges already bracing for massive funding cuts — lawmakers will almost certainly balk at paying for a hugely expensive new program. Instead, they might opt to fund a limited number of vouchers, indefinitely delaying the date when limits would be removed and all families become eligible for tuition subsidies.

Sen. Glen Womack, R- Harrisonburg, who chairs the Senate finance committee and voted against the program, said the goal of improving education must be paired with fiscal responsibility.

“We know we need a change,” he said, “but it's not an open checkbook.”

Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, said he was grateful that the final bill was “watered down” so that it won’t “don't blow up the state's budget.” However, he said the voucher program will do little to improve outcomes for the majority of students who remain in public schools.

“If we really want to continue moving the needle on public education in Louisiana,” he said, “then we have to continue investing in public education in Louisiana — not diverting that money to send to private schools.”

Landry also signed into law bills that require students to get their parents’ permission to go by a different name or pronoun at school and that ban discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools, which have been praised by proponents as tools to protect students and inform parents. Critics have said the bills unfairly target the LGBTQ+ community and could force students back into the closet.

Nearly 20 education bills were signed into law

Here's a list of bills Landry signed Wednesday:

HB 46, authored by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales: Prohibits schools from mandating that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of enrollment or attendance.

HB 47, authored by Edmonston: Requires information about vaccine exemptions be communicated to families when they are told about vaccine requirements.

HB 71, authored by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton: Requires the display of the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom.

HB 121, authored by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City: Protects educators who refuse to use a student's preferred name and pronouns.

HB 122, authored by Horton: Prohibits discussion of gender and sexual orientation in grades K-12 if it is not part of classroom instruction.

HB 205, authored by Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia: Requires additional compensation for teachers and other educators under certain circ*mstances.

HB 244, authored by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans: Expands the Steve Carter Literacy Program, which covers the cost of private tutoring, to include math services.

HB 267, authored by Rep. Kim Carver, R-Mandeville: Requires a universal math screening for students in K-3.

HB 320, authored by Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine: Removes certain student instruction and teacher training requirements.

HB 334, authored by Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Gray: Allows school boards to appoint chaplains to serve in public schools as employees or on a volunteer basis.

HB 424, authored by Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport: Requires public schools to use a uniform 10-point grading scale.

HB 644, authored by Rep. Kellee Hennessy Dickerson, R-Denham Springs: Allows homeschooled students to participate in public school extracurricular activities.

HB 647, authored by Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings: Requires the Louisiana Department of Education to provide a list to the Legislature of required teachings that fall outside of the required courses for graduation.

HB 908, authored by Amedée: Prohibits discrimination against students based on vaccine status.

HB 940, authored by Rep. Christopher Turner, R-Ruston: Allows bonds to be issued to colleges and universities to finance differed maintenance and capital improvement projects.

HB 967, authored by Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia: Allows retired teaches to be rehired without losing their retirement benefits when there is a critical shortage of educators.

SB 508, authored by Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington: Provides high-dosage tutoring for students in grades K-5.

Correction: Rep. Jason Hughes' party affiliation and district have been corrected. He is a Democrat whose district includes New Orleans. So, too, has Rep. Kim Carver's district been corrected.

Staff writer Julia Guilbeau contributed to this story.

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Jeff Landry signs education bills that promise to bring 'drastic change.' See the list. (2024)


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