- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana House is proposing to take a hatchet to the Department of Education in the final four months of the budget year, with cuts that the state’s education superintendent says would shutter nearly every program in his agency.

Payments for voucher schools and early childhood education programs would stop in the middle of the school year, and standardized testing would be scrapped for the spring, said Superintendent of Education John White.

Republicans in the House have said they want to make deeper cuts than what is proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to close a massive budget hole before the financial year ends June 30. They approved a $106 million package of cuts that is $76 million larger than the Democratic governor sought, during an ongoing special legislative session in which lawmakers are weighing a mix of cuts and tax increases to rebalance this year’s budget.

Nearly half the package of cuts would fall on the education department.

White told the Senate Finance Committee that the House proposed to slash $51.8 million from his agency. The cut would strip more than 85 percent of the $60.5 million in state financing remaining in his department.

“It literally closes your shop down,” Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said during a Sunday evening hearing about the cuts.

White agreed, saying he would be unable to pay for pre-K services, textbooks, standardized testing, required retirement payments and the final quarter of funding for the private schools that participate in Louisiana’s voucher program.

“Everything would just stop under this scenario,” the superintendent said.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said that would gut the state’s accountability system and renege on promises made to the state’s nearly 8,000 voucher students. He questioned whether Louisiana would be able to comply with federal education regulations, and White said that would put hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education financing at risk.

The House Appropriations Committee initially proposed cutting $44 million to the financing formula that pays for K-12 public schools and making the rest of the reduction in the education department’s programs.

But lawmakers in the House were resistant to the idea of cutting local public schools, so Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, agreed to move the entire reduction into the education department. House lawmakers didn’t object to the change last week.

White - like other agency leaders who testified before him Sunday - said his department wasn’t consulted with House leaders about the proposed cut that were approved.

Senators suggested they won’t agree to the level of education cuts proposed by their colleagues in the House.

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Online: House Bill 122: www.legis.la.gov .

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