Persistent money problems resurrected fears Monday that public schools will face their first cut in state aid in decades.
Gov. John Bel Edwards last month said he favored a standstill budget for the 2016-17 school year. Edwards said then that aid should include $44 million for schools that was provided last year outside the key funding source — the Minimum Foundation Program.
But after what he called a disappointing special session, the governor said the $44 million is in jeopardy.
“Unfortunately, I think we are going to have a cut in the MFP this year,” said Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents. “I am really worried about that.”
Milton was more optimistic earlier this year, when he thought a standstill budget for public schools was the most likely scenario.
However, state services face a shortfall of about $800 million starting July 1.
Even if tax hikes and other steps offset all or most of the gap when that will happen is unclear.
Milton said a reduction in dollars for public schools would have a big impact, including plans to revise the Common Core academic standards for the upcoming school year.
“That is a new initiative that is going to cost districts a lot of money,” he said.
Despite years of budget problems, public schools have escaped the kinds of reductions felt by higher education and health care.
Some lawmakers contend that, amid continuing financial troubles, it is unrealistic to think schools will remain unscathed.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said his members have been urged to budget conservatively because of concerns about state funding.
Amid the uncertainty, educators are preparing budgets for the financial year that begins July 1.
The 2016 regular legislative session ends June 6, and may be followed by the second special session of this year to grapple with budget issues.
Richard said any outright reduction this time would especially hurt districts that have suffered from revenue drops in local dollars, including sales tax money.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education earlier this month submitted a standstill, $3.7 billion funding request to the Legislature.
BESE, at the urging of Edwards, included the $44 million in this year’s MFP request that was approved last year in legislation separate from the funding formula.
Shane Riddle, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said in January he did not think a reduction in public school aid was in the offing.
Riddle said Monday he is not as optimistic now. “I am worried about it, sure,” he said.
The money is mostly used for teacher salaries.
Edwards told reporters on March 14 that BESE’s request would likely have to be trimmed.
“I don’t believe that $44 million is going to be there,” he said.
If that happens, it would mean a $2.3 million cut for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, $2.6 million for Jefferson, $1.4 million for Ascension, $3 million for St. Tammany and $1.7 million for Livingston, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education.
Other reductions would include Lafayette, $1.6 million; Tangipahoa, $1.2 million; and St. Bernard, $548,587.
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