White touts student aid proposal

Rebutting criticism, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system and others would see gains in state aid under his proposal to change the way gifted and talented students are funded.

“It allows school systems, if they do the right thing for their kids, to be awarded with more money while at the same time not jeopordizing any student services because those remain in the law,” White said.

Earlier this week, Dannie Garrett III, the president of the Baton Rouge Association for Gifted and Talented Students, said the group wants White’s plan scrapped, in part because parents and others believe the change would mean less money for their children.

But White said that, while the plan is complex, in many cases it would mean more money for schools by generating aid from other high-achieving students, not just those classified as gifted and talented.

The proposed changes are included in the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s $3.5 billion funding request for public schools.

The plan will be reviewed by the Legislature, which begins its regular session on April 8.

The modification would only apply to public high school students, including about 10,000 classified as gifted and talented.

Under current rules, state aid for gifted and talented students is 1.6 times what rank-and-file students get.

White wants to trim that aid to 1.3 times what rank-and-file students receive.

However, that extra aid would be expanded to all students who meet certain academic benchmarks, including 10th- and 11th-graders who scored 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam, which can be used for college credit.

In addition, gifted and talented students who also meet the new benchmarks would qualify for 1.6 times what rank-and-file students get.

White said any reduction in state dollars for gifted and talented students would, in many cases, be more than offset by additional dollars for the school system generated by other students who do well on advanced coursework.

He said that, in the case of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, a slight drop in gifted and talented aid would be more than offset by new gains sparked by other students meeting the new academic standards.

White said that, in part, the change is aimed at recognizing that high school AP and other classes are costly but not generating any special state dollars.

The change is supposed to be a pilot project for the 2013-14 school year.

White repeatedly has said that any tweak in state aid would be limited to 10 percent initially, which means that a district in line for an extra $100 would get $10 and one in line to lose $100 would lose $10 instead.

The state is spending about $42 million this year for gifted and talented students.

“We say let’s take that $42 million and just basically carve it up a little differently,” White said.

Garrett said about 70 parents met with BESE President Chas Roemer and others for more than two hours Tuesday night.

In an email, Garrett said his organization will “advocate for retaining the current funding model and oppose the proposed changes from becoming permanent.”