Ascension panel won’t join challenge to school aid formula
GONZALES — School boards across the state are considering whether to join the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board in a lawsuit challenging the state’s per-pupil school aid formula.
And it’s not a clear-cut issue.
In a discussion Tuesday, the Ascension Parish School Board decided not to pursue the matter.
Citing a generally education-supportive 2013 legislative session, the School Board decided not to put the question of joining the lawsuit on the agenda for a vote at its next meeting.
“I just think we get a lot of funding from the state of Louisiana and we’re going to sue Louisiana?” board member Thomas Pearce said.
At stake in the lawsuit by the St. John School Board is a potential increase in funding of $327 per Louisiana public student for the 2012-13 school year.
That would translate into an additional $200 million statewide, if the suit goes the School Board’s way.
However, even if the School Board wins the suit, it doesn’t mean the local districts will see the money.
The Legislature would have to appropriate the judgment.
The lawsuit grew out of a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that struck down the way the state’s expanded voucher program was financed.
At the same time, the state Supreme Court threw out Louisiana’s 2012-13 school aid plan, called the Minimum Foundation Program, saying it had been approved illegally, in part because it hadn’t been filed in a timely fashion with the Legislature, among other problems.
“Nobody ever paid attention to this second issue,” said Bob Hammonds, a Baton Rouge attorney who serves as general counsel of the Louisiana School Boards Association and represents a number of school boards across the state.
The Minimum Foundation Program combines state and local revenue, under a formula set by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and approved by the legislature, to make sure every student receives at least a “miniumum foundation of education.”
In its lawsuit, filed June 28 in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, along with the Louisiana Association of Educators and its local affiliates, allege the 2009 MFP plan was the last one passed properly.
The plaintiffs are seeking a 2.75 percent “growth factor” that’s been included in past Minimum Foundation Programs.
That would translate to per-pupil funding going from $3,855 to $4,182 in the 2012-13 school year, said Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Defendants in the lawsuit are the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Education.
Barry Landry, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the department doesn’t comment on pending legal matters.
Nor does BESE, said Kevin Calbert, with the BESE communications department.
On Friday, the Louisiana School Boards Association sent a letter to school boards across the state — there are 69, including St. John the Baptist — encouraging them to participate in the lawsuit.
Earlier this month, the Jefferson Parish School Board joined the suit.
“I don’t think there’s a school board in the state that’s not struggling to meet unfunded (state) mandates,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the LSBA.