Hard-to-get classes target of aid

In a proposal that could spark controversy, public school districts would be eligible for $7.5 million to give students access to hard-to-get classes.

The plan, called Supplemental Course Allocation, is part of the Jindal’s administration’s $3.4 billion plan to aid schools for the 2014-15 school year.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to vote on the request on March 7.

The Legislature, which begins its nearly three-month session on March 10, can accept or reject the funding outline but cannot change it.

State Superintendent of Education John White, who discussed the funding request with reporters, said the aid will be separate from the controversial Course Choice program, which is also aimed at helping students gain access to courses that may not be easily available.

“These are classes not typically taught in high schools,” White said.

He noted that the change was one of several recommended by a task force of educators and others that spent months last year studying the Minimum Foundation Program, the state’s school aid system.

The money would finance career preparation at firms and elsewhere, early college courses and remediation for certain students.

It applies to students in grades seven through 12.

Course Choice enrolls about 2,500 students.

It is also aimed at offering students hard-to-get courses, including those required for college scholarships, dual enrollment and remedial work.

The plan, which sparked a legal challenge over how it was financed, is now funded with $2 million in federal dollars from an oil and gas settlement and $1 million from the state Department of Education.

Critics contend that it is a mistake to have private firms taking part in a state-financed school program.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said Friday that Supplemental Course Allocation carries some of the same problems as Course Choice.

“Private vendors with very little oversight,” he said.

The funding request includes a 2.75 percent increase in basic state aid for public schools, which translates to about $69 million.

The task force recommended that the $69 million be allocated to districts without rules on how it is spent.

White noted that BESE will decide that issue before the request is sent to the Legislature.

Backers of unrestricted use say school districts face a variety of pressing needs, including rising retirement and health costs.

Monaghan and other teacher groups contend that, as in the past, half of the increase should be used for pay raises for teachers and other school personnel.

He said that, when teacher salaries reached the Southern average in 2008, it stemmed largely from requirements that half of the annual school aid hikes be used to raise teacher pay.