$3.6B school funding plan receives final passage

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A $3.6 billion financing plan to pay for Louisiana's public schools next year received final legislative passage Friday with a 95-2 House vote.
The school formula for the 2014-15 school year was written by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It will increase spending for programs by $15 million, including for career education courses and special education.
Also rolled into the permanent formula is a $70 million boost that lawmakers gave to school districts outside of the formula this year and more dollars to cover an increase in the number of public school students.
The formula — known as the Minimum Foundation Program — sets a base per-student funding level of $3,961 and pays for 695,000 students. If more students show up, lawmakers will have to add more dollars later.
The financing plan given final approval was BESE's second version.
The Senate Education Committee derailed the first one after the committee chairman, Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, objected to BESE's inclusion of an automatic growth factor that could have locked the Legislature into boosting the per-student payment by 2.75 percent annually in later years.
In the rewrite, BESE stripped the language calling for the inflationary increase.
"I don't think it is a signal that we don't support increased funding for education," said Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, who handled the legislation in the House.
He said lawmakers just wanted to decide when and how to increase education spending.
Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, Democratic leader in the House, was one of two legislators in the chamber to vote against the formula. He objected to the removal of the automatic growth factor, citing increasing retirement costs for school districts.
"We obviously have inflation more years than not, (and) that increases the cost of doing business and that applies to our school systems," Edwards said.
When BESE did the rewrite, the education board also made changes to lessen criticism from local school leaders, and leaders of both the school districts and the superintendents supported the latest version of the financing plan.
Lawmakers can approve or reject the formula submitted by BESE, but cannot change it. If the board and lawmakers cannot agree on a new formula, the state would continue using the current financing structure to pay for public schools next year.
Schools had been operating off a version of the formula that was passed by lawmakers for the 2011-12 budget year.


MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press

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