Legislation moves forward regarding financial support for post-secondary education programs for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities

BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School News Service) – The Senate introduced a 36-0 bill on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, which would provide financial support for new and existing post-secondary education programs for students with disabilities intellectual and developmental.

Louisiana currently offers six higher education programs that allow students with these types of disabilities to have a college experience and to grow educationally and socially.

If approved by the Chamber, the fund would help students increase their social and communication skills, develop job skills and produce empowered young adults who could become successful employees.

The bill, Senate Bill 192, was sponsored by Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, and was discussed in more detail Monday at the Senate Finance Committee, where a large crowd was present to show support. .

Boudreaux spoke only briefly about the bill. He presented an amendment because the fund is appropriations on an annual basis. The bill would simply create the fund, but not create the recurring source of revenue for it. He then yielded the floor so that those present could present their testimony.

Dr. Gerlinde Beckers, director of Lions Connected, a post-secondary education program at Southeastern Louisiana University, said her program has a 47% acceptance rate and lacks the funding to accept more students.

To date, 75% of people who have completed the Lions Connected program are gainfully employed.

UL LIFE student Mary Frances Avera shared her experience in a similar program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She said the program increased her confidence and communication skills and allowed her to become more independent.

She said the program is changing the lives of people with disabilities like her and hopes it will receive additional funding to help as many students as possible.

Dr. Caroline Jurisich, director of UL LIFE, said the need for programs like this is at an all-time high due to the growing number of applications each year. In 2019, UL LIFE even started offering housing to students looking for programs like theirs.

She hopes the programs will be expanded statewide to provide more opportunities for students with disabilities.

Yolanda Marks, a passionate single mother of a child with an intellectual disability, shared her daughter’s story. Her daughter is now a freshman in college, and Marks has asked the legislature to act as an angel investor and support students like her across the state.

“I come here today to ask you to consider this a business,” Marks said. “In order to receive maximum return on your investment, you need an influx of cash to grow and expand.”

“The payment would be that you have people working not because they have to, but because they want to be contributing members of society,” Marks said.

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