Objections raised to school funding formula change

BATON ROUGE, La. — The House budget committee chairman said Wednesday he disagreed with proposed changes to the public school funding formula that would strip a requirement for how much money must be spent in the classroom.

Lawmakers pushed several years ago for a mandate in the annual formula that 70 percent of the funding pay for instructional items at the “school building level,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin said.

“I think the Legislature is going to disagree with your assessment here,” Fannin, D-Jonesboro, told Superintendent of Education John White.

White said the requirement was removed from the proposed 2013-14 spending plan because of legislative concerns that the $3.5 billion formula should divvy up dollars, not dictate policy decisions. He said spending requirements for districts are spelled out in law, as decided by the Legislature.

White said the revamped formula — which needs legislative approval before it could take effect — was done “out of deference to lawmakers who expressed the viewpoint that we included too much policy in what should be a mathematical formula.”

Those concerns largely came from senators, who objected last year to new items that White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education included in the formula, like the creation of new programs never authorized separately by lawmakers.

BESE submits the annual formula to lawmakers, who can only reject or approve it. They cannot change it.

Fannin’s concerns were laid out in the budget hearing for the Department of Education, as the Appropriations Committee combs through $24.8 billion in total spending recommendations for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Other committee members questioned the costs of the new statewide voucher program that sends students to private schools with taxpayer-financed tuition.

“Districts are losing money because of the voucher program,” said Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a former local school board member.

“But they’re not educating that child,” White said.

The Louisiana Supreme Court is reviewing a lower court decision that declared paying for the $24 million voucher program through the public school funding formula was unconstitutional. Next year’s funding formula again anticipates paying for the voucher program, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Fannin also criticized the many contracts that flow through White’s department, questioning whether the contracts receive enough scrutiny from the state education board called BESE.

He said lawmakers worried that BESE had become a rubber stamp for the Department of Education.

“The intent of BESE was to have the oversight ... it was not to be so tightly wound that you couldn’t see a difference,” Fannin said.

BESE President Chas Roemer said the board reviews the contracts.


Associated Press

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