BESE OKs $3.5 billion education plan

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The state's education board Friday approved a $3.5 billion spending plan for public schools that has drawn strong opposition from special education interests.

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members voted 8-3 Thursday for the plan — known as the Minimum Foundation Program. Since all 11 panel members voted during its Administration and Finance Committee meeting, the tally was tantamount to action by the full board.

On Friday, The Advocate ( ) reported the full board formally approved the proposal on the same vote.

The funding plan would freeze state aid per student for the fifth consecutive year and includes money for a voucher program under a court challenge.

The request heads next to the Legislature, which can approve or reject the plan but cannot change it.

A key dispute Thursday focused on Superintendent John White's plan to start phasing in changes in funding for about 82,000 special education students.

Some objected to White's plan to allocate the money based on a student's disability, where and how the student is educated and academic performance.

The change for the 2013-14 school year would be limited to 10 percent of the state aid, which the superintendent said will allow educators to review how it is working next year. And White said the proposal, aimed at improving the state's 29 percent graduation rate for students with disabilities, was made with considerable testimony from a wide range of advocates.

But dozens of opponents criticized the plan.

Laureen Mayfield, who heads the Louisiana Special Education Association, disputed use of the 29 percent graduation rate for special education students. Mayfield said some other states with higher rates allow those students, unlike Louisiana, to earn a traditional high school diploma if they meet their individual education plan.

Money for the private school tuition voucher program, which White helped Gov. Bobby Jindal push through the Legislature last year, was included in the MFP despite a judge's ruling that the program was unconstitutional. White said that's because no final court ruling has been made.

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