Lafayette school leaders seek legislative help with preschool education, health services

Lafayette Parish school system leaders asked local legislators Wednesday for help in the upcoming session to clear the way to expand preschool education and student health services and to address keeping local tax revenue that will go to three charter schools dedicated to their original purposes.

Superintendent Pat Cooper and members of his staff met with legislators during the district’s annual legislative breakfast, typically held each year before the legislative session.

Four legislators attended: state Reps. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette; Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette; and Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette; and state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette.

Legislation could help lessen the financial blow Lafayette Parish could experience and other school districts in the state have faced as dedicated tax money follows students who enroll in charter schools, said Billy Guidry, the school system’s chief financial officer.

Beyond a share of the school district’s state per pupil funding, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, the charter schools also receive a share of local tax revenue for each public school student who enrolls in their schools.

The district, which has three dedicated taxes approved by voters, could lose up to $4.5 million a year of tax revenue that would follow students attending charter schools, Guidry said.

He asked for legislation that either requires charter schools to use that tax revenue for its dedicated purposes, such as teacher salary supplements, or have those funds remain with the school district for those purposes.

In August, three charter schools will open in the parish, under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which granted the charters after the School Board had rejected them.

The district stood to gain about 2 percent of the charter schools’ share of per pupil state funding to cover administrative costs had the School Board approved partnerships with the charter school organizers.

“If you had voted to grant the charters, would you have this problem?” Landry asked.

Guidry said the 2 percent is meant “to cover administrative costs, not to cover something of this magnitude. We’d still be having this conversation. If I was a charter school, I’d want to use those funds for operations in the matter that operations would require.”

The district also asked legislators for $1.2 million for start-up costs to expand student health services in the three high school zones that don’t currently have a school-based health center.

The school district operates a health center at Carencro Middle in partnership with Lafayette General that next month will serve Ossun Elementary through telehealth services — a model not used by any other school system in the state, said Bradley Cruice, district director of health and wellness.

As part of the telehealth program, technology links a pediatrician at Carencro Middle to a nurse at Ossun Elementary who uses Bluetooth-enabled equipment, such as a stethoscope, otoscope and ophthalmoscope, to assist in the doctor’s exam.

Cruice said legislation that allows the district to be reimbursed for telehealth and mental health services it provides is also needed.

The district also asked for legislators’ help in expanding preschool services with legislation that would allow local school districts or nonprofit organizations to be the fiscal agents of donations for early childhood services.

Cooper estimates it would cost $3 million a year to move all at-risk children ages birth to 4 in Lafayette Parish into some type of preschool educational program — whether a public preschool or child care center.

The donations are received by resource and referral agencies as part of a statewide tax incentive program that offers up to $5,000 in tax credits per year for donations to early childhood education and there’s no guarantee where those donations will be directed, said Christine Duay, district director of early childhood programs.

“We don’t have a way for that money to reach every child,” Duay said.

The resource and referral agency for the Lafayette area also serves two other parishes and last year received $135,000, Cooper said. He said legislation could help boost donations if nonprofit foundations or a local school districts — rather than a resource and referral agency — were allowed to accept the donations and allocate them.

Cortez offered his support if legislation is needed, but questioned how the district plans to prioritize needs if it is unable to secure $3 million in donations.

Duay said the money would be directed to those child care centers with the largest percentage of families who qualify for child care payment assistance.

“Those are the centers serving the most at-risk kids,” Duay said.

It’s expected the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards will be debated during the session. As of late Wednesday afternoon, legislation related to the standards had not been pre-filed. The deadline to pre-file isn’t until the end of the month.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau asked legislators to support the new standards, or risk maintaining mediocrity for the state and its children. Billeaudeau said teachers are growing more comfortable in making the curriculum changes needed to align with the new standards.

Cortez said teachers are communicating a different message to parents.

“What I’m hearing is that teachers are telling parents: ‘This is not good.’ The parents are calling us, telling me, ‘You’re imposing some curriculum that they can’t teach.’ There is a disconnect between what you just said and what parents are hearing from your employees. Teachers on the front line are saying this is not good.”

Landry said she thought most people’s concerns have been addressed with BESE’s decision to implement a two-year transition period for the new standards and assessments, but she expects the conversation in the upcoming session to center on concerns about the sharing of student data and new tests, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers .

Districts have spent resources to prepare for the implementation of the new standards and new tests, said former school board member Shelton Cobb.

“My concern is that the state levels all these kinds of dictates and then says you shouldn’t do that. PARCC wasn’t a local idea,” Cobb said. “We’ve expended a lot of time on money addressing the issue to turn back on it now is ridiculous.”