Early Louisiana high school graduates could earn scholarships after bill clears House panel

The Advocate

A bill aimed at rewarding high school students who graduate early, and supply dollars for Louisiana’s depleted child care aid program, won approval in the House Education Committee Tuesday.

However, even the sponsor of the bill conceded that there are major questions on the impact of the measure, even if it wins final approval.

The measure, House Bill 541, next faces action in the full House.

Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, aims to use half of the savings for high school students finishing early by offering them college scholarships.

In addition, 49 percent of any savings would go to the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps finance child care for low-income families. State aid for CCAP has been slashed by 70 percent in the past eight years, backers of Carter’s bill said.

A total of 2,221 high school students earned diplomas in less than four years in 2016, according to the state Department of Education.

Carter said that, since those students would not be in line for state aid for their senior year, the state would save dollars, which would remain in the general fund.

The onetime scholarships would amount to about half of what the students would have otherwise gotten from the state if they were enrolled in the 12th grade.

The bill was backed by the Council for a Better Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the education advocacy group Stand for Children.

Critics said the legislation is flawed because any savings would have to be allocated by the House Appropriations Committee for scholarships and CCAP, which they said is unlikely amid state budget problems.

“I understand there are concerns,” Carter told the committee.

“But I really believe we need to set in place something like this,” he added. “When it gets to appropriations, if it is not funded that is ya’ll’s decision not to fund it.”

Rep. Patrica Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee, said while she agrees with the goals of the bill, financing scholarships and CCAP will be a problem. “I am just concerned about the funding piece of it,” Smith said of the bill.

Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, a committee member, raised similar concerns.

“The money is not going to come in line for the scholarships and the child care because there is no money there.”

Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, praised efforts to shore up CCAP.

The program helps pay child care for children from birth to 4 years old while parents are at work, school or in job training.

Enrollment last year shrunk to 15,000 from 40,000 amid state budget cuts.

“And no other representative has offered a way to even start getting funding back into it, slots for families who desperately need them to go to work,” Bronfin said.

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