BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Multiple Louisiana advocates have been promoting the installation of surveillance cameras in special education classrooms.

In 2022, Louisiana lawmakers allocated $8 million toward the project.

But officials say many parents have been telling them the cameras have yet to be installed in Louisiana’s special education classrooms.

During a Louisiana Senate Finance Committee hearing on Monday, lawmakers asked the Louisiana Department of Education to explain what happened to the $8 million.

Ethan Melancon, Executive Director of Governmental Affairs with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), responded by assuring lawmakers that the money is not sitting with the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) or with LDOE. Instead, the money went straight to the schools that needed it.

“When it comes to the special education camera money, the $8 million was allocated,” Melancon said. “That was done in a very expedient way. I believe it was August or September, we got them out the door. As soon as we were able to get BESE convened is when we sent out the allocation for those SPED cameras.”

Melancon said some cameras have been installed, but it’s a process that LDOE is attempting to keep track of.

“We currently have a survey in the field collecting data on how many were actually implemented and put up,” Melancon stated.

So, the districts have the money, but some have yet to use it.

Melancon attempted to explain by saying, “As you remember, the law that was passed, a parent had to request that camera. So, school systems can do it ahead of time or a parent had to request for it. So, that money is going to sit in those accounts until a parent or an advocate asks for a camera to be placed in a classroom. So, that’s where we are when it comes to the funding on that. We did not reserve any money at the Department, everything went out the door directly to the school systems based on that fund.”

He added that the LDOE has asked for $800,000 to ensure the continued operation of the cameras that are in classrooms. “So, we will be getting a full report on how many have put it in,” he said.

Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge said LDOE needed to find out exactly how much money for cameras each district and charter school received. She said the data needed to be given to lawmakers as soon as possible.

When questioned further about the funds, Melancon explained that each district will hold on to the money that was allocated until camera installation is requested. He said though the funds remain with the district indefinitely, they cannot be used for any purpose. They’ve been designated for camera installation only.

Barrow pointed out that LDOE also asked for $800k for the continued upkeep of cameras. She asked, “So, we’re going to give $800,000 to school systems that we don’t know whether or not they’ve implemented the cameras?”

Melancon said, “Yes, ma’am.”

At that point, Barrow replied, “That’s a problem.”

He explained that the funds would go to a reserve account, but Barrow still had doubts about the situation.

“This for me, is very problematic,” Barrow said. “The reason why they were asked for in the beginning was because of the alleged abuse that was happening to some of these children who cannot speak for themselves, and we are not addressing that holistically.”

She asked Melancon, “Right now, I don’t know how many schools have implemented it, do you have any idea?”

He replied that he did not.

“I don’t have the hard numbers for them yet. I can get that for you and we’ll get you what we know as of now. Like I said, we do have a survey in the field because BESE wanted to know how many school systems have done it,” said Melancon.

Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge and Ethan Melancon, the Executive Director of Governmental Affairs with LDOE during a May 22, 2023, Louisiana Senate Finance Committee hearing

Barrow concluded by emphasizing the need for LDOE to find out how many cameras were installed across Louisiana’s districts.