More students could have access to tutoring vouchers, but few have been used so far

Empty desks face the chalkboard in a classroom
Empty desks face the chalkboard in a classroom

Shutterstock photo

Louisiana lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that would expand a voucher program for students not meeting state math and reading standards, and state officials are hoping demand for them will increase.  

House Bill 244, authored by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, would increase the amount of voucher money families receive, expand the grades from which students can access the program and add numeracy tutoring to the program. The bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Education Committee. 

The vouchers are currently worth $1,000. Hughes’ bill would increase the amount to $1,500. 

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the expanded program will cost the state nearly $4.5 million starting in 2025. The program has previously been paid for with federal Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSR) funds. 

The last round of ESSR funds expire in September, so the state must use the money by then or lose any remaining amount. 

The Louisiana Department of Education originally invested $40 million of ESSR funds in the tutoring program, but the money was steered toward other needs once it became clear students would use only around $2 million. 

Under the Hughes bill, students in kindergarten through 12th grade could use vouchers for either math or literacy tutoring. Currently, the vouchers are only available to kindergarten to fifth-grade students. 

In order to be eligible, students must score below their grade level or fall short of mastery in math or English on state assessment tests and be considered at risk for learning difficulties. Priority is given to low-income families. 

The vouchers can only be used for tutoring services the Louisiana Department of Education has approved. The state does not anticipate Hughes’ proposal to increase the percentage of students who will use the program. It’s estimated more than 300,000 students will be eligible but fewer than 3,000 students are expected to obtain tutoring. 

According to a NOLA.com report, education advocates say the program is not well-known among teachers or parents. The availability of tutors has been sparse, and critics say unnecessary burdens such as the application process make it difficult to take part. As a result, only 0.8% of eligible students have been reached since the services were first offered in 2021. 

Hughes’ bill would also change the name of the program to the Steve Carter Education Program. The former state representative, who died in 2021, chaired the House Education Committee from 2011 to 2025. 

The proposal now moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would create a screening for numeracy, or math basics, in kindergarten through third grade. 

House Bill 267, authored by Rep. Kim Carver, R-Mandeville, mimics the system already in place for literacy screenings. It would require students to be tested three times a year and for parents to be notified if their children do not meet grade-level expectations. 

Carver’s bill would also require numeracy intervention and support for students testing below grade level. They would also be given an improvement plan created in concert with their parents, teachers and other necessary school personnel. 

The legislation carries a $2.5 million cost for the first year and $3 million every year after. The expense is associated with assigning new vendors to performing the screenings three times a year. 

The proposal passed committee unanimously and now moves to the Senate Finance Committee. The legislation would be implemented in the 2026-27 school year if approved.

This story’s headline and lede were updated for clarity. 

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