Education Leader Says Jindal Budget Guts Student Testing

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's education superintendent asked lawmakers Tuesday to add money to his budget for standardized testing next year, saying Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal would wreck the state's ability to measure student performance.

         Superintendent John White told the House Appropriations Committee that Jindal's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 so deeply cuts his agency that it would force his department to violate state and federal student testing requirements.

         Jindal's budget allocates $5.3 billion for the education department. But most of those dollars flow directly to school districts. The department's actual operating budget would be cut by about $23 million, a loss of nearly half its state financing.

         White asked for $10 million to be restored to preserve standardized testing contracts, saying his department could cope with a $13 million cut.

         "I recognize that testing is not something that kids love to do, not something that parents always love to have their kids do and so on, but it is a necessary thing to ensure quality in our education system. I am asking you very explicitly to consider funding a quality test and not to throw our system into a state of chaos," White told lawmakers.

         The budget proposal has become the latest flashpoint between Jindal and the education leader, who was once one of the Republican governor's strongest allies. The men have been at odds over the Common Core education standards and the testing aligned with them.

         The Common Core standards are benchmarks of what students should learn at each grade level in English and math. They've been adopted by more than 40 states as a way to better prepare students for college and careers. Opponents say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.

         Jindal opposes the education standards, but White supports them.

         The Jindal administration says it didn't target Common Core or testing with the proposed cuts.

         With the state facing a $1.6 billion budget gap next year, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said every agency must take budget cuts.

         "We need to invest directly into classrooms and the education of children rather than bricks and mortar, staff and more government bureaucracy," Nichols said in a statement.

         She said the reductions proposed for White's department were reasonable and White has discretion over where to slash spending.

         White described the cuts in more dire terms, saying the budget would be "radically decreased in a way that would essentially render impossible the administration of state tests, risking hundreds of millions of dollars."

         He said if Louisiana doesn't follow a federal law requiring testing of public school students, it risks losing $800 million in federal education money.

         Lawmakers who oppose Common Core questioned whether that threat of lost federal funding was real.

         "That is in federal law?" asked Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.

         "It is our interpretation of federal law," White replied.

         The Appropriations Committee is doing a department-by-department review of Jindal's recommendations. Lawmakers aren't expected to craft a final version of next year's budget until June.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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