The House Education Committee on Tuesday voted to send the state’s K-12 education funding formula back to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), requesting a cheaper formula that still includes pay raises for teachers and support staff.
The state constitution does not allow the legislature to alter the Minimum Foundation Program formula for K-12 public schools. Legislators can either approve it, reject it or send it back to BESE to reconsider.
BESE has unanimously approved an MFP that includes more than $100 million in additional money over last year for raises, along with almost $40 million to give school boards their second per-pupil block-grant increase in a decade. Both of those increases were included in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget proposal.
While the pay raises seem to have universal support among lawmakers, the committee’s Republican majority balked at the latter increase, hoping to save that money for other priorities such as early childhood education (which the K-12 formula doesn’t include).
Gary Jones, president of BESE, urged the committee to approve the formula as-is.
“BESE didn’t make the decision of what to send you in a vacuum,” he said. “It’s BESE’s responsibility to send you an MFP that reflects accurately the cost of educating the kids.”
Jones said inflation increases average costs by about 3 percent per year, and a 2.75 percent annual bump used to be standard. Districts were expecting to pay higher benefits costs associated with the raises out of the 1.375 block-grant increase BESE was requesting, so not including the block-grant bump effectively cuts into the raises and places an unfunded mandate on districts, supporters of the increase said.
But Republicans said the need for more spending on early childhood education may be more urgent, given the developmental importance of those early years. There are 5,500 families on a waiting list for early childhood services, and the state is expected to lose more than $30 million in federal funding, Superintendent of Education John White said.
“It is incredibly disheartening to see the needs of early childhood education pitted against the needs of our public schools,” said Belinda Davis, an LSU associate professor and parent. “Your job is to figure out how to fund both.”
But Rep. Cameron Henry, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, noted that there were many needs of children to consider, such as the food assistance program run by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. As lawmakers work through the budgeting process, Henry said he will look for opportunities to fund the additional $40 million outside the MFP.
“Teacher pay raises are a given to me,” he said.
Though BESE has a previously scheduled meeting Wednesday, Jones said that revisiting the MFP that quickly would not be realistic. On Tuesday, he said BESE would “probably wait a week or so” to try again.
“I strongly believe that the per-pupil amount increase is necessary to support our school systems and our teachers, who often spend money out of their own pocket to buy supplies for their classrooms,” Edwards said in a prepared statement. “I am disappointed that the House Education Committee has voted to remove this portion of the MFP and return it to BESE, but I look forward to working with legislators and stakeholders to find common ground on this per-pupil amount as we move forward to increase pay for teachers while also balancing the state’s budget.”