School aid plan approved by Senate Finance Committee

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge.

A $3.6 billion spending plan for public schools cleared its second hurdle Monday when the Senate Finance Committee approved it.

The vote was 10-1.

The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 55, next faces action in the full Senate.

The plan is known inside state government as the Minimum Foundation Program.

It provides much of the financial assistance for nearly 700,000 public school students, in this case for the 2014-15 school year.

The initial plan was rejected by the Senate Education Committee.

A revised version was approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on May 12, and then backed by the Senate Education Committee on May 15.

The key change excludes what critics called an automatic 2.75 percent increase in state aid even if the Legislature fails to agree on a new plan in future years.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and sponsor of the proposal, said that would tie the hands of legislators.

While school groups generally back the compromise, some officials have said the lack of any assurance that school aid will rise by at least 2.75 percent is bothersome.

That used to be the minimum increase in state aid public schools could count on but state financial problems ended that tradition.

“I believe the cost of education is going to continue to go up,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, who praised other parts of the plan.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, also had mixed views on the legislation.

“The needs are great, the priorities are less than clear,” Monaghan said.

The legislation includes $69 million to continue teacher pay bonuses that the Legislature approved last year.

Under state law, BESE submits its funding request to the Legislature, which can accept or reject the plan but cannot change it.

The lone “no” vote was cast by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.

Claitor said he disagrees with how state aid would be provided to special education students.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog.