- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Citing Louisiana’s continuing budget woes, senators refused Thursday to boost funding for Louisiana’s public schools by $85 million for the upcoming school year, rejecting a nearly $3.7 billion proposed financing formula.

The House had given unanimous support to the plan last week, but the Senate Education Committee rejected the legislation without objection.

If lawmakers can’t agree on a new formula, the current year’s spending plan will remain in place next year, with an automatic $41 million increase because more students are expected to attend the state’s public schools in the 2015-16 year.

The dispute centered on other proposed increases, particularly a 1.4 percent inflationary boost that would cost $36 million. Senators raised concerns about increasing spending on K-12 education while struggling to close a hefty $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said programs and services across state government have taken cuts over the last seven years but the public school formula has been shielded from slashing.

“In a time when we’re $1.6 billion in the hole and we’re struggling and we’re probably going to raise taxes on probably every person in the state, I’m struggling with ‘Hey, let’s get an increase,’” Walsworth said. “We can’t just stay in this silo and say there’s no one else out there.”

The formula, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, was crafted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Lawmakers can only approve or reject the formula BESE sends them. They cannot change it.

House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, urged passage, saying the state should focus its spending on priorities: “What’s more important than our kids? What’s more important than education in our state?”

Walsworth suggested public health care programs - which face steep cuts in next year’s budget proposal - were also a priority. He said children can’t go to school if they’re not healthy.

“There are other things that have to happen to our children before we get them to kindergarten,” he said.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, noted the House version of next year’s budget contained the increased spending on public schools, but left large holes in health care.

“We’re dealing with a budget that is a zero-sum game,” he said. “We received a budget that was underfunded to the tune of $200 million.”

School leaders said they need increased funding to account for retirement and insurance price hikes and other cost increases. They described districts that have closed schools, furloughed teachers and privatized services to cut costs.

West Feliciana Parish Superintendent Hollis Milton said the shift to the Common Core education standards has bumped up costs for teacher training and computer technology.

“I think this is very fair what we’re asking,” he said.

Other new dollars sought by the state education board included $8 million for students with disabilities and for students taking “dual enrollment” college courses and career education classes. Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said lawmakers could add the new spending into next year’s budget without adopting the new formula.

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Online:

House Concurrent Resolution 18: www.legis.la.gov

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