The biggest impact of a 21-member task force on school funding is that it may set the stage for yet another panel to overhaul the way Louisiana aids public schools.
The committee is meeting five times, with three down and two to go.
All signs suggest it will only recommend tweaks to the state’s obtuse school aid formula, which is called the Minimum Foundation Program.
“The time frame doesn’t really allow that big of a change,” said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, and a member of the panel.
The state is sending $3.5 billion through the formula this year.
About 700,000 public school students depend on it.
Some education leaders think the spending formula, which was crafted nearly two decades ago. needs an overhaul because it does not split up the money fairly.
“It is time to take a closer, in-depth look at the MFP because there have been a number of major changes in the way education works in Louisiana,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, and a member of the task force.
Others complain about its complexity.
Yet even reaching consensus on small issues, like making minor changes in how the state funds special education students, is easier said than done.
State Superintendent of Education John White, another task force member, said earlier this week that he and other department officials thought the panel was in general agreement on several modest issues.
That list includes how charter schools are financed and career education.
White’s view sparked arguments during a four-hour meeting on just how any consensus was reached, which does not bode well for agreement when a final draft is supposed to be finalized in December.
The study stems from legislation that had far more grandiose ideas on what the panel could do.
State Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Dubberly, sponsored the resolution, which listed focus areas as how the annual aid plan is determined, whether it is fair and the financial burden faced by local school districts.
Richard said only short-term fixes are in the works because the task force is being driven less by what Reynolds wanted and more by BESE, which is dominated by allies of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“As time slips through our fingers we have passed up some opportunities to address some modifications that could have been beneficial for stakeholders,” he said.
Any study to replace the MFP would take months or longer, and likely require the support of Jindal and others to become reality.
Delving into rising retirement costs has been a frequent topic pushed by Richard and leaders of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.
They say those expenses, as well as skyrocketing health costs, are having a huge impact on the state’s 70 school districts and need attention.
But other than a retirement discussion at the task force’s next to last meeting little on that appears to be in the offing.
Jay Guillot, chairman of the committee, has repeatedly said the group’s five-meeting timetable does not allow for in-depth reviews of teacher retirement and other issues.
Erwin noted that Jindal tried to convince the Legislature last year to revamp Louisiana’s retirement sytem for public employees amid staggering, unfunded debt.
“And we didn’t get anywhere,” Erwin said.
The task force meetings resemble academic symposiums, which is not surprising in light of the arcane topic.
State education officials, usually with power points, have walked panel members through the dizzying complexities of the MFP.
Members of the public then take turns offering their own comments, with special education advocates by far the most plentiful.
The panel was initially seen as a vehicle for White to win support for major changes in how the state funds special education students.
That appears less likely now, especially since the panel is nearing its conclusion.
The final meetings are set for Nov. 21 and Dec. 13.
Will Sentell covers state education policy and issues for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com.