A new program that forces state taxpayers to underwrite private school tuition would cost Louisiana more than $500 million a year once it’s fully implemented, according to analysis from the Public Affairs Research Council. The Senate Education Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday, which will create so-called Education Savings Accounts in Louisiana. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports

(C)ritics at the hearing questioned why the state would subsidize private education for families who can afford to pay tuition or live near high-performing public schools. They also said the state should hold private schools that receive tax dollars to the same standards as public schools. Steven Procopio, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, an independent policy research group, also raised fiscal concerns. He estimated that 120,000 students could apply for stipends after the program had been in operation for five years or so, bringing the cost to $520 million annually. “That’s a lot of money,” he told lawmakers.

WVUE’s Ron Masson reports on the accountability and cost concerns for ESAs:

The Louisiana School Board Association says that the previous voucher program wound up sending public money to schools that were poor performers. “Under 50 was an F, and the average voucher score was almost an F. And we were told it would be a phenomenal opportunity,” said Danny Garrett, with the LSBA. Garrett contends that the new LA Gator program has even less accountability than the previous voucher program. … St. Tammany Schools Superintendent Frank Jabbia released a statement saying the ESA “threatens to undermine the mission of public education.”

State lawmakers are seeking to permanently block a policy that provides pathways to high school graduation for Louisiana students who fail to meet minimum benchmarks on standardized tests. Last year, Republicans on the House Education Committee voted down the plan, but then-Gov. John Bel Edwards overruled their decision and approved the policy. Gov. Jeff Landry nixed the appeal process in his first month in office, and now House Republicans want to enshrine it in state law. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Elyse Carmosino reports:

On Thursday, opponents of HB8 argued that the state’s testing requirements disadvantage not only to students still learning English, but also those with learning disabilities or who struggle with certain subjects. … Dr. Ken Oertling, superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public Schools, also spoke in opposition of the bill, pointing out that his district used the appeals process last year for a student with a learning disability. The student earned a welding certification and was offered a post-graduation job, Oertling said, but he struggled to pass one set of tests needed to receive his diploma. “This was a student that was challenged in one subject area after having taken that test eight times,” he said.

Only nine states require passing a standardized test to graduate. Of the nine, Louisiana is the only one without an appeals process. Students in private schools are not subjected to the requirement. 

Standard and Poor’s announced on Thursday that it had increased Louisiana’s bond rating. The major credit rating agency had downgraded the state’s rating in 2017 because of persistently weak revenue collections and resulting budget shortfalls. The increase will save the state money by lowering the cost of borrowing money in the bond market. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges explains

(Gov. John Bel) Edwards and the lawmakers inherited a budget mess from former Gov. Bobby Jindal, which led to the 2017 downgrade. During his first term, Edwards and lawmakers raised the state sales tax and cut spending to eliminate projected budget deficits. Louisiana saw record surpluses during Edwards’ second term, helped by post-pandemic financial assistance provided by former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and Congress. This revenue allowed Edwards and lawmakers to significantly pay down pension debt and build about $3 billion in reserves.

S&P’s report notes that Louisiana’s budget stability might be short-lived: 

A major question mark ahead for Louisiana, the report noted, is whether Landry and lawmakers will renew a .45-cent sales tax that expires in mid-2025. Allowing the temporary sales tax to disappear would cost the state $625 million in the fiscal year that begins in mid-2025, the report said.

The number of Americans who are considered “cost-burdened,” meaning they must spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs, reached a record high of 22.4 million in 2022, according to a recent report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Now, half of all renters nationwide are burdened by the high costs of housing. In Louisiana, more than a quarter of renters are severely burdened, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent. Researchers from Brookings break down 10 economic facts about rental housing, including how federal housing assistance falls shorts:

Annual housing assistance per household is very low relative to average housing costs. In this period, annual federal housing assistance doubled from $475 (in 2022 dollars) per qualifying household per year ($23 billion in total) to $941 per qualifying household per year ($49 billion in total). Meanwhile, the median asking rent per month in the U.S. in November 2023 was $1,967 (Redfin 2023).

17 million – Number of low-income households that are at risk of losing internet access or facing disruptions in service. Congressional lawmakers did not include funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program in recent spending bills. (Source: Federal Communications Commission via Route Fifty)