- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s education department announced Wednesday that it will seek a $44 million increase in the public school funding formula next year above Gov. Bobby Jindal’s request, pushing for new dollars despite a state cash crunch.

Jindal proposed a $3.6 billion school formula for the 2015-16 budget year that would keep spending flat, only adding the $34 million required to account for expected growth in the number of students attending public schools.

White’s larger proposal would add $8 million to increase spending for students with disabilities and for students taking “dual enrollment” college courses and career education classes. It also would provide another $36 million to give a nearly 1.4 percent inflationary increase for all 70 public school districts.

“In challenging fiscal times, we have to make hard choices,” White said in a statement. “This proposal protects high-need students and classroom educators.”

Jindal didn’t push back against the suggestion of spending more money on the formula, though he offered no recommendations for where those dollars could be found.

“If additional funding is available in the budget, we absolutely support further increases,” the governor said in a statement.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will decide which formula recommendation is forwarded to state lawmakers. It will consider White’s proposal Thursday and is expected to vote on a final version a day later.

White’s proposal is less than the 2.75 percent inflationary increase school boards and teacher unions sought, but any increase is expected to face resistance from some lawmakers with the state facing a hefty budget gap next year.

Louisiana is grappling with a $1.6 billion shortfall. Jindal’s budget proposes widespread cuts across departments. The school funding formula is one of the only areas not slated for reduction in the governor’s spending plan.

“We are pleased that, despite making reductions to other areas of government, we have fully funded the (school formula) every single year of our administration,” Jindal said.

The formula is known as the Minimum Foundation Program. It allocates a base per-student funding level for about 700,000 students across Louisiana’s public schools and then provides additional money depending on student type, local district wealth and the kinds of educational programs offered.

Lawmakers can only approve or reject the formula sent to them by the state education board. They cannot change it. If lawmakers reject the formula proposal, the education board can send modifications or schools would continue to follow the current year financing structure to pay for public schools next year.

The Legislature will consider the school financing formula submitted by the education board in the legislative session that begins April 13.

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