School funding to be considered next week

Nearly 5,000 students rely on vouchers in the current school and nearly 8,000 are set to do so in the upcoming school year.

One day after rejecting a public school spending plan, a legislative leader said Thursday his committee will consider a slightly different version submitted by Louisiana’s top school board.

The latest proposal will allow the panel to consider a $3.5 billion spending plan without forcing a new proposal from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

“We have checked with all the lawyers,” Appel said. “They are happy with it.”

The panel on Wednesday rejected BESE’s initial proposal in light of last week’s ruling by the state Supreme Court, which struck down how the state financed vouchers.

The money was first planned to come from the $3.5 billion.

But later in the day BESE officials said the rejected proposal inadvertently included language never considered by the board.

The corrected version was sent by BESE to the education committee on Wednesday, including language aimed at keeping the resolution intact if the court tossed out the voucher funding method, which it did.

In a letter to Appel, BESE President Chas Roemer said the latest public school spending plan “clearly severs those portions of the MFP formula impacted by the court’s ruling.”

The MFP is the Minimum Foundation Program, which is the source of the $3.5 billion in school aid.

In a view that may spark controversy, Appel said the newest version sent by BESE will allow legislators to consider the proposal next week.

He also said the spending package — it is Senate Concurrent Resolution 23 — was filed in plenty of time to meet legal requirements, and the Legislature has until the June 6 adjournment date to pass it.

“We have absolutely no problem with that,” Appel said.

The court, aside from derailing the way vouchers are financed, also struck down last year’s MFP resolution, in part because the ruling said it was not introduced in time.

The legislation spells out state aid for about 700,000 public school students for the 2013-14 school year.

The court ruled 6-1 that it is unconstitutional for MFP dollars to finance vouchers, which are state aid that allows some students to attend private and parochial schools.

Nearly 5,000 students rely on vouchers in the current school and nearly 8,000 are set to do so in the upcoming school year.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and other voucher backers say money for the aid will be provided in the state operating budget. But efforts to do so are expected to spark renewed arguments about the merits of the assistance.

Another possible dispute may focus on whether the tweaked MFP proposal needed to be reviewed by BESE, then sent to the Legislature.

“We are opposed to the MFP,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that sparked last week’s ruling.

“The MFP is unacceptable on its form; it is inadequate in its funding level,” Monaghan said.

The MFP proposal is also expected to trigger controversy over planned changes in how special education and gifted and talented students are funded.

The state has about 82,000 special education students and spends $313 million based on the number of such students.

Under the proposed change, 10 percent of the money initially would be based on a student’s disability, where and how the student is educated and academic performance.