Louisiana special education plans to change

Faced with criticism from local superintendents, state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday he is changing plans to overhaul the way the state funds its 82,000 special-education students.

Under a proposal that White spelled out to superintendents on Feb. 14, Louisiana’s funding method would be revamped over three years to improve the state’s 29 percent graduation rate, which is the second lowest in the nation.

Under the latest plan, the state would roll out a limited tryout of the new funding method for the 2013-14 school year, then examine the results.

Whether the new funding method will take effect statewide in 2015-16 as initially envisoned is unclear.

“I think we need to see what the impact is,” White said.

He said the changes show that state leaders are listening to local superintendents.

“We are heeding their caution,” White said.

Michael Faulk, who is chairman of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council, said Thursday he is pleased with the slowdown.

“We want a more careful approach,” said Faulk, who is also superintendent of the Central public school system.

“There is a lot of uncertainty out there,” he said.

White has repeatedly said that the state’s 29 percent graduation rate — ahead of only the 23 percent rate in Mississippi and Nevada — cries out for action.

The state now spends $313 million for special education.

Allocations focus simply on whether a student is categorized that way.

Under White’s plan, money would be spent based on a student’s disability, where and how the student is educated and academic performance.

Louisiana’s top school board is set to take up the topic on March 7-8 in connection with its annual public school funding request from the Legislature.

Faulk and other superintendents told White they were concerned about the financial impact on their districts, among other issues.

“I want to see what the impact budgetarily on the district would be,” said Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol, who is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council.

St. Bernard Parish Superintendent Doris Voitier, another member of the council, said her concerns are more fundamental than just the impact the changes would have on individual school districts.

“Is this the approach that we wish to use to fund special education?” Voitier asked on Thursday.

“That to me is a much bigger issue,” she said.

White said Thursday that, under his latest plan, the changes would apply to all 70 school districts in the 2013-14 school year.

However, they would be limited to just 10 percent of the state aid for special education students.

That means districts entitled to an additional $10 under the changes would collect just $1.

Those in line to lose $10 under the new plan would lose only $1, White said.

Faulk said using pilots to test the changes will help to find any flaws in the new system.

He noted that a plan to give principals more budget authority — it is called student-based budgeting — largely faded after pilot programs showed flaws in that approach.