BESE approves public school spending plan revisions

The state’s top school board, showing rare harmony, approved revisions in its $3.6 billion spending plan for public schools after its initial proposal was killed by the Louisiana Senate Education Committee.

The vote was 9-1.

The changes, including revisions to avoid automatic school aid hikes in future years, won support from several influential school groups, including the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

“We do support this instrument,” said Patrice Pujol, president of the superintendents’ group, of the document that included the modifications.

The issue under scrutiny is the Minimum Foundation Program, the key source of funding for nearly 700,000 public school students statewide.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education submits a plan, which the Legislature can accept or reject but cannot change.

The Senate panel voted last month to shelve BESE’s initial funding request.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, and sponsor of the plan, said he tossed his own bill because it would allow automatic, 2.75 percent hikes in state aid for public schools in future years even if the Legislature failed to agree on a new spending package.

“They indicated they would not pass the formula with that language in it,” BESE President Chas Roemer told the board.

One of the changes approved by BESE removes that provision.

In an email after the vote, Appel said that, while he has not reviewed BESE’s amendments, “I should be OK,” if they mirrored what was outlined to him beforehand.

That means the issue could be revived in the state Senate committee as early as Thursday.

Education leaders have said previously that schools need annual hikes of at least 2.75 percent because of rising retirement, health insurance and other expenses.

BESE member Kira Orange Jones, who lives in New Orleans, cast the lone “no” vote because she said the 2.75 percent language is crucial.

“Adequate funding is absolutely essential,” she said.

Pujol told BESE that, while her group has long backed inclusion of a 2.75 percent inflationary factor in the school spending plan, other proposed changes in the MFP make the package worth backing.

“We do appreciate where we are at this point in time,” said Pujol, who is superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system.

The session ends June 2.

The Louisiana Legislature has to finish action on the proposal three days before adjournment.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said while his group has “grave concern” about removing the inflationary factor from future spending packages, he understood that the amendments represent a compromise.

The proposed spending formula would include about a $70 million increase for public school students.

However, that is the same amount provided by the Legislature last year from a separate funding source, which means the $70 million allows local school districts to retain current funding.

Other changes that won BESE approval are designed to ensure funding for $15 million in new special education, career diploma and dual enrollment initiatives recommended by an education task force.