- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rewrote its $3.6 billion school financing proposal Monday, after its first version of the spending recommendations for the upcoming school year stalled in the state Senate.

Earlier this month, the Senate Education Committee shelved BESE’s proposal for the 2014-15 school year at the urging of committee chairman, Republican Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie.

Appel said he had a philosophical problem with including an automatic growth factor that could lock the Legislature into boosting the per-student payment by 2.75 percent annually in later years.

BESE stripped that inflationary factor Monday and made other adjustments to lessen complaints from school boards and superintendents, then passed the rewritten version with a 9-1 vote. BESE member Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans, was the lone opponent.

“What we are trying to do is create a formula that is responsive to the wide array of concerns,” said Superintendent of Education John White. “This is a compromise.”

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.

Unlike the prior BESE recommendations, school boards and superintendents offered support for Monday’s revamp.

“Lots of hard work has gone into getting us to the point where we are now,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Teacher union leaders said the reworked formula addresses many of their concerns, but they didn’t offer full support.

The new version of recommendations would increase spending in the financing formula by about $150 million.

Of the increases, $70 million of that would simply roll into the permanent formula an increase that lawmakers gave to school districts this year. Another $40 million is tied to increased student enrollment. And $20 million was required to address local tax changes.

Only about $15 million of the increased funding would expand spending on programs, including for career education courses and special education.

BESE reworked its plans to pay for state schools, like the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, so that local school districts don’t have to cover a portion of their costs. That change will keep $3.4 million with the local districts that otherwise would have gone to help pay for the state schools.

The House-passed budget bill for next year doesn’t match up with the recommendations approved Monday, so lawmakers would have to rework the spending plans if the rewritten public school funding formula gets legislative backing.

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