Senators reject school funding formula amid budget concerns



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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — At the request of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana senators Thursday rejected the public school financing formula proposed by the state education board for next year, which included a spending boost.

Lawmakers in the current budget year raised funding for K-12 public schools by $44 million outside of the annual financing formula. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, proposed to roll that money into the formula for the 2016-17 school year, to make it a permanent increase.

Edwards said Louisiana can't afford that amid ongoing budget problems that have the state struggling to close a $750 million shortfall in the financial year that begins July 1. The Democratic governor is proposing to cut the $44 million from public schools next year.

The Senate Education Committee agreed without objection Thursday to the reluctant request of its chairman, Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish, to reject the formula.

"It's not something I particularly want to do," said Morrish, R-Jennings.

Education leaders said public schools will struggle with the cut.

"This is obviously not an easy reduction for any public school to take," said Superintendent of Education John White. But he didn't argue in favor of the formula, saying: "I also recognize that the governor and the Legislature are having difficult discussions like this across the budget."

The president of the Louisiana Association of Educators urged the committee to advance the financing proposal with the $44 million included.

Debbie Meaux said while she understands "times are hard and money is even harder to find in the state's budget," the reduction for public schools would hit classrooms.

"I cannot in good conscience accept that reality without expressing the harm that will do to our children," Meaux said.

Morrish said lawmakers might be able to come up with additional money for public schools in a second special session expected later this year, when new tax increases will be considered.

Edwards' proposal to cut the money for local public schools is a turnaround for him.

As a state lawmaker last year, Edwards pushed for the $44 million increase that was given to schools this year. Now as governor, elected with the backing of teacher unions and public school leaders, he's seeking to remove the money.

If BESE doesn't agree to rewrite the financing formula for next year, the current year's spending plan — which doesn't include the $44 million increase paid outside the formula — will remain in place for the 2016-17 school year.

Lawmakers can only approve or reject the formula, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, that BESE sends them. They cannot change it.

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Online:

Senate Concurrent Resolution 44: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Melinda Deslatte

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