- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A $3.5 billion school financing plan submitted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for the upcoming school year was rejected Thursday by state senators.

The Senate Education Committee shelved the proposal on the urging of the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie. No senators objected to Appel’s motion to defer the legislation.

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

“I’m just fundamentally against the concept that there’s a mandatory increase imposed upon the Legislature,” he said.

Lawmakers can approve or reject the formula submitted each year by BESE, but cannot change it. If the education board and lawmakers can’t agree on a new formula, the state would continue using the current financing structure to pay for public schools in the 2014-15 year.

State Superintendent of Education John White defended the recommendations.

“We look forward to talking with legislative leadership about whether the legislature can support a formula proposal this year,” he said in a statement.

But Appel said BESE must submit a reworked formula or he won’t bring the discussion up again in his committee. The vote, he said, was “meant to suggest to BESE they better take another look at it.”

BESE President Chas Roemer said the formula proposed by the education board was “developed through the input of a diverse group of education stakeholders and the careful consideration of local school district needs.”

In a statement, Roemer added: “We also appreciate the chairman’s concerns and will consider them as we move forward.”

The recommendations BESE submitted to lawmakers in March 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.

The budget bill awaiting debate in the House contained the money to pay for BESE’s proposal. But if lawmakers want to fund the new initiatives, they could pay for those items outside of the financing formula.

Opponents of BESE’s recommendations listed multiple complaints.

Ashley McReynolds has a son with developmental disabilities who attends a Baton Rouge public school. She said the proposed formula doesn’t address repeated complaints about inequities in special education funding.

“The resources are not following the right children,” McReynolds said.

Local school boards and school superintendents said the proposal doesn’t provide enough money to cover escalating retirement costs and cope with the price tag for new instructional materials and technology required for the state’s shift to Common Core education standards.

They also objected to adding state schools, like the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, into the formula, saying it would take away more than $50 million that otherwise would pay for local school districts.



Senate Concurrent Resolution 55 can be found at www.legis.la.gov

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