Louisiana Lawmakers Back $3.7B Financing Formula For Schools

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers have adopted their first new financing formula for the state's public elementary and secondary schools since 2014.

         The $3.7 billion formula, given final passage Monday with a 35-1 Senate vote, will pay for more than 700,000 students in the 2017-18 school year.

         The amount paid per student will remain frozen at the current rate of $3,961. But the formula will grow by about $42 million.

         Increases will pay $18 million for growth in student enrollment and will direct another $18 million in new dollars for higher-need students and dual enrollment programs that help students earn credit toward advanced degrees. Another $7 million was added to assist flood-impacted districts and safeguard the Vernon Parish district if it experiences student enrollment drops from a deployment at nearby Fort Polk.

         Senate Education Chairman Dan "Blade" Morrish noted the formula has increased funding despite the state's ongoing financial problems.

         "I think it speaks highly for what (the House and Senate) believe is important in Louisiana, and that's the education of our young people," said the Jennings Republican.

         The Senate's version of the state operating budget for next year includes enough money to cover the new formula.

         Sen. Karen Carter Peterson supported the formula and said the $18 million for expanding programs "is certainly going to go further in helping teachers to get the job done in the classroom." But she also said Louisiana has a long way to go to properly funding K-12 education.

         "If we want to complete globally, we're going to have to do more," said Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat.

         Sen. Conrad Appel, a Metairie Republican, disagreed with Peterson. He said Louisiana spends more on average per student than many other Southern states that rank higher in educational attainment.

         "We spend more than anybody else and we're not getting any better," Appel said.

         The House last week voted unanimously for the spending plan. The only lawmaker to vote against the formula was Sen. John Milkovich, a Keithville Democrat who has raised objections to spending on state education bureaucracy. The formula doesn't need approval from the governor.

         The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education crafted the formula, with input from lawmakers. The Legislature sent back the first draft, seeking the additional dollars for the flood-damaged districts and the Vernon Parish school district. Lawmakers can only approve or reject the formula, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, that BESE sends them. They cannot change it.

         Education leaders pushed for more money to pay for rising retirement costs and other expenses. But BESE members didn't believe such increases could win legislative support when the state is struggling with continued budget gaps.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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