Bills moving through the Legislature would replace the state’s current school voucher system with universal taxpayer-funded stipends, better known as Education Savings Accounts. While vouchers are offered to low-income families, the state’s new ESA program would eventually be available to all students in the state, regardless of income. Most of the demand for similar programs in other states came from families, many affluent, who already have their children in private schools, which represent entirely new costs. Arizona’s ESA program has significantly contributed to a nearly $1 billion budget deficit and could lead to school closures and teacher layoffs. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports:

Critics argue that ESAs-for-all would pull resources from public schools and threaten funding for other priorities at a time when Louisiana faces a looming budget shortfall. “It represents a huge new cost to the state,” said Jan Moller, executive director of Invest in Louisiana, a nonprofit that analyzes state policies. “We’ve seen evidence from around the country that this is a surefire recipe for breaking the state’s budget.”

While all families would be eligible to receive ESA vouchers, private schools will not be forced to change admission standards to accept all eligible students. 

David Claxton, superintendent of the Jackson Parish school district, noted that public schools must serve all students. The state also rates public schools based on student achievement. If private schools receive public money, they should be held to the same standards, Claxton argued. “If you’re going to use public funds, I think it should be the same for everybody,” he said. Otherwise, “it’s not a fair playing field.”

Louisiana legislators are paid $16,800 per year – plus a $175 per diem – for jobs that are supposed to be part-time positions but can swallow up much of their time during busy parts of the year. For that reason, the Legislature is dominated by people who are business owners, lawyers, retirees or other occupations that give them the flexibility to serve. A recent study shows that Louisiana is one of 10 states that have no working-class state lawmakers, defined as people who currently or last worked in manual labor, service industry, clerical or union jobs. Nationally, just 116 of the nearly 7,400 state legislators are members of the working class. Stateline’s Robbie Sequeira reports

Working-class politicians are more likely to have personally experienced economic hardship, so they are more interested in policies to mitigate it, [co-author Nicholas] Carnes (of Duke University) said. And they often propose solutions that differ from those put forward by colleagues who aren’t working class, even if it means diverging from party doctrine. “State legislatures make consequential decisions, and if you have an entire economic class of people that are not in the room when policy decisions are being made, that’s going to tilt the kind of problems politicians pay attention to,” said Carnes. “It also dictates the kinds of solutions they consider against the interests of whoever’s out of the room.”

Louisiana legislators haven’t had a salary increase since 1980. 

The Louisiana Legislature is trying to solve a climate-driven homeowner’s insurance crisis that is pricing people out of homes and the state altogether. But two legislators want to protect gas-powered vehicles that contribute to climate change and the extreme weather events that make Louisiana a hard place for insurers to do business. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles that Reps. Phillip Tarver and Chuck Owen want to prevent isn’t happening, but their insistence on maintaining the status quo instead of preparing for the future is a familiar pattern for the state. The Shreveport Times’ Greg Hilburn reports

The report from Legislative Auditor Michael Waguespack said the combination of more EVs, hybrids and more fuel-efficient gas vehicles as well as a state gas tax that hasn’t increased in three decades means “the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is not sufficient to meet Louisiana’s (now $18.7 billion) in infrastructure needs.” Republican Baton Rouge Rep. Barbara Frieberg’s 2022 law that began assessing the state’s first tax on EVs and hybrids in 2023 will help lessen the gap, but the auditor said Louisiana will still fall $322.9 million short through those vehicles and more gasoline-efficient cars and trucks over the next decade.

The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate editorial board urges lawmakers to focus on the real issues that are causing residents to seek better opportunities elsewhere, not the culture-war politics that do nothing to solve Louisiana’s many and massive problems.

Instead, they should focus on measures that directly address the problem of population loss, rather than on hard-right, ideological battles that don’t solve the problem — and may even send a message that Louisiana is not a welcoming state. Because unless our leaders — and all of us — figure out how to turn Louisiana into a place that people want to stay, not leave, little else matters.

Louisiana’s near-total ban on abortions is causing severe health risks for pregnant women by upending standard medical procedures and delaying regular care, according to a new report by Lift Louisiana. The report cites cases where women were forced to undergo Cesarean sections – a major abdominal surgery – when their fetus was no longer viable, instead of receiving an abortion or medication. NPR’s Rosemary Westwood reports:

Describing one of these cases, Dr. Michele Heisler with Physicians for Human Rights explained that the C-section was done “to preserve the appearance of not doing an abortion.”The patient wasn’t given a choice, she added.  … Compared to an abortion procedure or an induction, it carries far greater risks for increased hemorrhaging, compromised future fertility, and other complications.

Doctors in the report explain how they are scared to perform regular care – or do what was in the best interest of their pregnant patients – because of the risk of violating the state’s narrow exceptions for abortions. Louisiana doctors can spend up to 15 years in prison, incur huge fines and lose their medical license for violating the state’s abortion laws. 

Another physician in the report couldn’t get their colleagues to agree to an abortion for a patient with a history of multiple C-sections, hemorrhaging and infections in past pregnancies. “It was a risk” to require the patient to stay pregnant, the physician said, but the woman wasn’t yet “at the brink of death.” Some hospitals have even told physicians that they can’t give patients any information on how to get an abortion outside of Louisiana — because that advice could be construed as “providing” an abortion.

$338,482 – Median wealth for a U.S. household with a union member, compared to $199,948 for nonunion households. A massive wealth gap exists between workers in unions and non-unionized workers across education levels. (Source: Center for American Progress)