Gifted and talented advocates criticize proposed aid changes

Proposal would alter per-student allocation

A Baton Rouge group is asking Louisiana’s top school board to scrap plans to revamp the way the state aids gifted and talented students.

“We are also reaching out to legislators and saying this is not a good change,” said Dannie Garrett III, president of the Baton Rouge Association of Gifted and Talented Students.

The complaints stem from a $3.5 billion school funding proposal, which is called the Minimum Foundation Program, that was approved on March 8 by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The plan will be reviewed by the Legislature, which begins its 2013 session on April 8.

One part of the plan, which is being spearheaded by state Superintendent of Education John White, would revamp the way the state funds gifted and talented high school students.

White said the changes, which he calls a pilot project, are aimed at getting better results for the high school portion of the $41 million that the state spends annually.

“The state invests as much as California,” he said. “This is a serious investment for us.”

But Garrett said Monday that the plan is riddled with flaws that ultimately will mean less money for gifted and talented students.

Garrett’s group is set to meet Tuesday with BESE President Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, and others at 6 p.m. at the Louisiana Resource Center, 5550 Florida Blvd.

Association officials call it a private, volunteer organization with an email list of about 700 parents who advocate for the maintenance and improvement of gifted and talented programs.

Louisiana has about 28,400 gifted and talented students, including nearly 10,000 in high school.

State aid for the roughly 18,000 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade would not change.

White’s proposal is linked to other changes in how the state aids its 82,000 special education students, which also has triggered controversy.

The superintendent says that, in both cases, any positive or negative effect on school districts would be limited to 10 percent of total dollars during the 2013-14 school year.

Under current policies, the state allocates aid for gifted and talented students in grants based on enrollment.

Garrett said that means each student qualifies for 1.6 times what the state spends on rank-and-file students.

White wants to change that funding formula.

Under his plan, high school gifted and talented students would receive 1.3 times what rank-and-file students get unless they met certain achievement levels, in which case they would remain at 1.6 times the traditional aid.

“We want to reward excellence,” White said earlier.

Under the BESE-approved MFP plan, students would qualify for the aid if:

Garrett noted the change would trim the funding level from 1.6 times what rank-and-file students get to 1.3 times.

“That is a 50 percent cut in that extra money,” he said, adding that talented students stand to be most affected.

Garrett also said the requirement that students score at least a 3 on an AP exam is worrisome.

“You can get an A in the class, but if you don’t make a 3, you don’t get this extra (money),” he said.