Roemer: No need for new school proposal

The president of Louisiana’s top school board said Monday that legislation that spells out proposed spending for public schools can still move through the Legislature despite a court ruling last week that struck down how the state finances vouchers.

Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said there are no plans for the panel to hold a special meeting and approve a new spending plan.

“We believe the MFP meets the court requirement even after the ruling,” Roemer told the Senate Finance Committee.

The state Supreme Court ruled 6-1 last week that it is unconstitutional for the state to pay for vouchers through the Minimum Foundation Program, which is the source of funding for public schools.

Vouchers pay for tuition and mandatory fees for some students to attend private and parochial schools.

The $3.5 billion spending proposal approved by BESE in March, which is awaiting action in the Senate Education Committee, includes funds for voucher students.

The legislation can only be approved or rejected by the Legislature but, generally speaking, cannot be changed.

But Roemer said adjusting enrollment estimates in the legislation, which can be done by removing students whose schools were set to get voucher payments, should allow the court ruling to be addressed without BESE submitting a new spending plan.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed the statewide voucher expansion through the Legislature last year, repeatedly has vowed to continue the aid for students who are relying on it for the 2013-14 school year.

Jindal said last week that the funds can be allocated through a separate item in the budget, which is how vouchers were financed when they were limited to New Orleans.

State Superintendent of Education John White said the state’s share of voucher costs totals about $24 million for the current school year.

Nearly 5,000 students are getting the aid.

About 8,000 students are set to receive vouchers for the next school year, which could cost the state about $41 million.

But exactly how the vouchers will be funded and whether they can win approval in the House and Senate is unclear.

White told the same committee that the state owes $6 million in voucher payments for the current school year.

Roemer said the money is due sometime in May and that the state has a moral and legal obligation to pay.

He said he does not know where the money will come from.