Friday, March 13, 2009

Louisiana school district funding could stop big budget cuts 


Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's 69 public school districts face a standstill funding formula for next year that would total nearly $3.3 billion and spare them the budget cuts proposed across most state agencies.

A committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday agreed not to request an increase in school funding because of the projected $1.3 billion drop in state revenue projected for the new budget year that begins July 1.

The funding formula approved by a board committee matches the proposal that will be offered by Gov. Bobby Jindal for the 2009-10 school year, which includes no cuts for school districts, said board member Penny Dastugue of Mandeville.

Traditionally, the formula grows by at least 2.75 percent a year.

"Although we understand that the (formula) is at what we're calling zero percent growth, that is not going to be the case with virtually every other agency in the state," Dastugue said. "We are grateful at this point."

The state board will take a final vote on the matter Thursday, but the vote is considered procedural. A majority of the board's members approved the formula in the 8-1 committee vote.
Voting against the standstill spending plan was Louella Givens of New Orleans, who said she wanted to send lawmakers a formula with the 2.75 percent growth as a start to negotiations.

"Once we do this we will never get that money back," Givens said. "We're asking districts to do more, and we're asking them to do more with less."

State lawmakers, who will craft the final budget for next year, can only approve or reject the funding formula submitted by the state board. They cannot change it.

The complex formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP, divvies up dollars to school districts based on the number and type of students and the individual districts' wealth.

Teacher union leader Steve Monaghan said neither a standstill formula or the regular 2.75 percent increase would be enough to properly cover the costs of educating public school students.

"The problem is that neither of these is based on classroom realities. In the past, we have lamented educational investments that were not large enough," Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation for Teachers, said in a statement. "Today, we are still faced with a vision for our schools that is far too limited."

Though the funding formula will remain standstill, schools could lose other state dollars that flow through the education department and outside the formula. State board members said they expect as much as a 25 percent cut to that money.

Also, board members said the Jindal administration budget plan uses $71 million in federal stimulus money to keep the public school formula free of cuts. Board member Linda Johnson, of Plaquemine, said she worried about what happens to the formula funding when the federal dollars fall away in two years.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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