Testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Education
Regarding HB 452
Tim Benson, Policy Analyst
The Heartland Institute
May 25, 2022
Chairwoman Fields and members of the committee:
Thank you for holding this hearing on HB 452.
My name is Tim Benson, and I am a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is a 37-year-old independent, national, nonprofit organization whose mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Heartland is headquartered in Illinois and focuses on providing national, state, and local elected officials with reliable and timely research and analysis on important policy issues.
I am writing today to speak in favor of enacting this Education Savings Account Program for bullied students in Louisiana.
Louisiana has significant safety issues in its schools. One ranking from 2021 listed the Pelican State as having the sixth-worst bullying problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), last released in 2020 and containing survey data from 2019, nearly one in five Louisiana high school students, 19.3 percent, were bullied on school property in 2019. Another 15 percent of Louisiana high school students reported being cyberbullied.
Further, another 10.6 percent reported being in a fight on school property in 2019, with one in six, 12.4 percent, reporting they were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. Disturbingly, another one in six, 13.1 percent, reported skipping school at least once in the last 30 days due to concerns for their safety. Even more disturbingly, 17.7 percent of Louisiana high school students said they had seriously considered attempting suicide.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) permits students to transfer to another public school under ESSA’s Unsafe School Choice Option provision, but only if their current public school meets the state definition of a “persistently dangerous” school. Because states define unsafe schools so narrowly, fewer than 50 American public schools out of nearly 100,000 are labeled “persistently dangerous” each year.
Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents are allowed to transfer them to safer schools, which is current policy both federally. This program would empower Louisiana parents to transfer their children fairly quickly to the safe schools of their choice.
Copious empirical research on other school choice programs makes clear these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools.
To cite just one example, a recent study from EdChoice looked at the Pelican State’s three education choice program—the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, the School Choice Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities, and the Tuition Donation Credit Program—and found these programs have saved Louisiana taxpayers between $97.7-322.7 million through Fiscal Year 2018. This works out to a savings of between $1,896 and $6,260 per each student participating in these programs.
Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.
An 2019 survey by Phi Delta Kappa reveals more than one-third of American parents fear for their child’s safety at school. This number rises to 48 percent for parents earning less than $50,000 per year. This represents a large jump from 2013, when only 12 percent of respondents answered they feared for their child’s safety.
Louisiana’s public schools aren’t just habitually failing to keep kids safe, they are also habitually failing to educate them children. In 2019, only 29 percent of public school fourth-graders and 23 percent of eighth-graders tested “proficient” to grade level in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) examination, colloquially known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Just 26 percent of fourth-graders and 27 percent of eighth-graders tested “proficient” in reading. Essentially, and embarrassingly, the state’s public schools are failing to educate roughly seven out of ten Louisiana children to grade-level proficiency in reading and math.
The Louisiana public education system’s failure to protect children and provide parents with reasonable alternatives is precisely why this program is so desperately needed. Every Louisiana family should have the opportunity to remove their child from an unsafe school environment. With HB 452, this would become reality.
Thank you for your time.
For more information about The Heartland Institute’s work, please visit our Web site at www.heartland.org or http:/news.heartland.org, or contact our Government Relations Department at 312/377-4000 or reach them by email at [email protected].
 Adam McCann, “States with the Biggest Bullying Problems,” WalletHub, October 11, 2021, https://wallethub.com/edu/e/best-worst-states-at-controlling-bullying/9920.
 “Louisiana 2019 Results”, 2020 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, August 20, 2020, https://nccd.cdc.gov/Youthonline/App/Results.aspx?TT=A&OUT=0&SID=HS&QID=QQ&LID=LA&YID=2019&LID2=&YID2=&COL=S&ROW1=N&ROW2=N&HT=QQ&LCT=LL&FS=S1&FR=R1&FG=G1&FA=A1&FI=I1&FP=P1&FSL=S1&FRL=R1&FGL=G1&FAL=A1&FIL=I1&FPL=P1&PV=&TST=False&C1=&C2=&QP=G&DP=1&VA=CI&CS=Y&SYID=&EYID=&SC=DEFAULT&SO=ASC.
 EdChoice, The 123’s of School Choice, April 19, 2022, https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/123-of-School-Choice.pdf.
 Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, EdChoice, May 18, 2016, http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf.
 Martin Lueken, Fiscal Effects of School Choice, EdChoice, November 11, 2021, https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/The-Fiscal-Effects-of-School-Choice-WEB-reduced.pdf.
 M. Danish Shakeel and Corey A. DeAngelis, “Can private schools improve school climate? Evidence from a nationally representative sample,” Journal of School Choice, Volume 12, Issue 3, August 8, 2018, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15582159.2018.1490383?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=wjsc20.
 Corey A. DeAngelis and Angela K. Dills, The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health, October 29, 2018, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3272550.
 Phi Delta Kappa, Frustration in the Schools, September 2019, https://pdkpoll.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/pdkpoll51-2019.pdf.
 “2019 Mathematics State Snapshot Report – Louisiana, Grade 4”, Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2019/pdf/2020013LA4.pdf.
 “2019 Mathematics State Snapshot Report – Louisiana, Grade 8”, Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2019/pdf/2020013LA8.pdf.
 “2019 Reading State Snapshot Report – Louisiana, Grade 4”, Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2019/pdf/2020014LA4.pdf.
 “2019 Reading State Snapshot Report – Louisiana, Grade 8”, Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2019/pdf/2020014LA8.pdf.