School aid plan nears final approval

A $3.6 billion spending plan for public schools moved within one step of final approval Wednesday when the Louisiana House Education Committee approved it.

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

If it passes there, it would be the first new public school funding package since 2011.

A court struck down the 2012 spending outline, and the 2013 proposal died in the Legislature.

“This Senate concurrent resolution is as good as we are going to get,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, told the panel.

“A compromise, absolutely,” Appel said.

State school aid goes through a complex formula called the Minimum Foundation Program.

It provides roughly two-thirds of the dollars that support Louisiana’s 700,000 or so public school students.

The legislation would require that local school districts sustain teacher stipends or other increases that were financed by the Legislature last year.

It also includes $14.5 million in new aid to help students with profound disabilities, boost support for the most expensive career education classes such as welding and provide new assistance for dual enrollment, which involves classes outside of high schools.

The measure would boost spending per student from $3,855, where it has been since 2008, to $3,961.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, criticized the lack of an automatic, 2.75 percent increase in state aid for public schools in future years.

That provision was in the initial spending plan sent to the Legislature by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

However, it was rejected by the Senate Education Committee.

Appel said it would be unfair for state school aid to rise even when the Legislature was unable to agree on a new funding plan.

Edwards, a member of the committee, said he liked other parts of the legislation.

The proposal was backed by the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of Superintendents.

It was opposed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

LFT President Steve Monaghan said the lack of any requirement for 2.75 percent aid increases in the future means that a key driver in school funding hikes will soon be forgotten.

Monaghan also criticized the lack of any pay raises for school support personnel.

“All of those concerns amount to a reluctant red card,” he said, a reference to the committee witness cards that express opposition.

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