A bill that would bolster Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bid to expand access to private and parochial schools won lopsided approval Tuesday in the Louisiana House.
The measure, House Bill 969, was approved 67-36 and next faces action in the state Senate.
It is linked to a separate, higher profile bill that passed the House last week.
That legislation would expand access to state aid for some students to switch from struggling public schools to private schools if they meet income rules.
House Bill 976 also awaits action in the Senate.
HB969, approved Tuesday night, would allow individuals and firms to make donations to help finance tuition for low-income students who attend private schools.
Donors would then qualify for a rebate.
The rebate could not exceed 95 percent of what was donated, meaning 5 percent could be used for administrative costs by school officials.
Donors would be giving to a tax exempt group set up by the school.
The aid for the students, which the bill calls scholarships, is not to exceed an estimated $4,000 for students from kindergarten through eighth grade and about $4,500 for students in grades 9-12.
That means, even with the assistance, parents would likely have to pay some costs to meet the cost of tuition and fees, backers said.
Like last week’s debate on two key Jindal public school bills, backers said the measure would give families more school options, especially for those whose children are stuck in low-performing classrooms.
“I think it expands choice,” said state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge and sponsor of the measure.
“It’s all about choice,” Talbot added later during a debate that lasted nearly four hours.
But House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards, of Amite, told the House that the bill is riddled with constitutional problems.
Edwards said it was a mistake for the House to be debating a “refundable tax credit” bill when such measures are prohibited by the state Constitution in a regular session during an even-numbered year.
Edwards reminded colleagues that they took an oath to uphold the Constitution on Jan. 9.
“I hope that certainly means something to you,” he said.
Talbot disputed Edwards’ criticism, and said the chief clerk of the House said a rebate bill was allowable this year.
“We did our due diligence,” Talbot said in his closing remarks.
Repeated bids by Democratic lawmakers to amend Talbot’s proposal failed by lopsided margins, just as they did last week.
Jindal’s fellow Republicans enjoy majorities in the House and Senate.
State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, tried to limit the assistance to students attending public schools rated “D” or “F” by the state.
“We have a limited number of slots available,” said Ritchie.
“I just think we need to be concentrating on the “D” and “F” schools,” he added.
Talbot opposed the change.
He said that, for whatever reason, parents may want to move their children from schools other those with “D” and “F” grades.
Ritchie’s amemdment failed 48-49.
Another Ritchie amendment to offer donors tax credits instead of rebates also failed.
The House approved an amendment that would delay the rebates until the end of the school year, and not until a number of conditions are met.
It would prorate any rebate if the student moved to a public school.
In addition, taxpayers would only qualify for a rebate if the school certified to the state Department of Education that the donation financed a scholarship.
Voting FOR rebates for taxpayers who donate to help pay for private and parochial school tuition for some students (66): Speaker Kleckley and Reps. Adams, Arnold, Badon, Barras, Berthelot, Billiot, S. Bishop, Broadwater, Burford, H. Burns, T. Burns, Carmody, Carter, Champagne, Chaney, Connick, Cromer, Danahay, Dove, Fannin, Foil, Garofalo, Geymann, Greene, Guillory, Guinn, Harris, Havard, Hazel, Henry, Hensgens, Hodges, Hollis, Howard, Huval, Lambert, N. Landry, Leger, Leopold, Ligi, Lopinto, Lorusso, Mack, Miller, Moreno, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Pearson, Ponti, Pope, Pugh, Pylant, Richardson, Robideaux, Schexnayder, Schroder, Seabaugh, Simon, St. Germain, Talbot, Thibaut, Thompson, Whitney, P. Williams, and Willmott.
Voting AGAINST HB969 (37): Reps. Reps. Anders, Armes, Barrow, W. Bishop, Brossett, Brown, Burrell, Cox, Dixon, Edwards, Franklin, Gaines, Gisclair, Harrison, Hill, Hoffmann, Honoré, Hunter, G. Jackson, K. Jackson, James, Jefferson, Johnson, Jones, T. Landry, LeBas, Montoucet, Norton, Ortego, Pierre, Price, Reynolds, Ritchie, Shadoin, Smith, Thierry, and A. Williams.
NOT Voting on HB969 (2): Reps. Abramson and Richard.