State school aid under scrutiny

The state school board Wednesday approved part of the makeup of a 21-member panel that will do a quick study on how to change the way public classrooms are funded.

The group is supposed to meet four times starting on Sept. 4, and make recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by the end of the year.

Those changes would then be considered by BESE when it submits its 2014-15 school aid request to the Legislature.

Louisiana’s public school aid system is called the Minimum Foundation Program.

Critics contend the formula is needlessly complex and fails to allocate state and local aid fairly.

They also complain that BESE routinely submits its request to the Legislature with little input from key education groups.

The task force includes officials of a wide range of school organizations, including the Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana.

The list also includes state Superintendent of Education John White, three BESE members, superintendents, parents and officials of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office will have a designee on the panel, and Stephen Waguespack, a former key aide to the governor, is one of the BESE members on the committee.

Whether the size of the task force will make it unwieldy was one of the topics at BESE.

“I think all the appropriate constituencies are represented,” said Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol, one of the members.

“Time will tell whether we can work together in order to come up with a real solution,” Pujol said.

The Sept. 4 meeting is supposed to focus on what it costs to educate children in Louisiana, including public testimony.

The October gathering will highlight state and local revenue — both make up the bulk of state school aid — and the November session is supposed to study how school dollars are allocated.

Central Superintendent Michael Faulk said the last MFP overhaul followed two years of study and was phased in over four years before taking full effect in 2000.

“With the abbreviated timeline you are not going to make any long-term impact on the MFP,” Faulk said.

Faulk and Pujol are two of the seven BESE appointments to the task force, all of which were approved on Wednesday.

Earlier this year BESE’s $3.5 billion school aid request died in the Legislature amid concerns over proposed changes in how the state would fund special education students.

The Legislature later approved a $69 million hike in state aid to public schools — the first of its kind since 2008 — and public schools are operating under the 2011-12 public school aid plan.