Gov. John Bel Edwards is unlikely to recommend a hike in basic state aid for public schools, an aide to the governor said Tuesday.
Donald Songy, the governor's education adviser, said the state faces a $1.5 billion shortfall for the financial year that begins on July 1, 2018.
For that reason, Songy said, "it doesn't look very likely at all" that Edwards' budget proposal will include an increase in what the state spends per public school student.
Songy made his comments at the end of a meeting of the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force, a panel named after the program that allocates state aid to Louisiana's roughly 700,00 public school students.
The task force advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which submits its own spending plan to the Legislature.
However, even before Songy's comments there was a widespread view that, in another year of budget problems, significant hikes for public schools are unlikely.
State Superintendent of Education John White told the task force that his talks with the Edwards administration officials indicate "this is going to be a very difficult year financially."
White made a similar comment to BESE earlier in the day.
The state is spending $3.7 billion on public schools for the current school year. However, spending per student has only risen once since 2008.
Where schools have gained in recent years is outside of the MFP formula, including $69 million in 2013; $44 million in 2015 and $20 million in 2016 from other state appropriations. Last year the governor recommended a freeze in basic state aid for schools but he won approval for boosting dual enrollment spending by $10 million and $8 million for high-needs students.
However, education leaders have said repeatedly that rising health and retirement costs have pinched the state's 69 school districts when basic state aid is frozen repeatedly. The aid pays for textbooks, school supplies and other day-to-day expenses.
Local districts have also had to absorb costs for summer remediation that is supposed to be financed in part with state dollars, said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
Mindful of tight finances, task force members turned down getting behind a proposal that would use state school aid dollars to finance the annual teacher and principal of the year awards statewide. Those costs would be about $50,000 and $25,000 respectively, a pittance in a $3.7 billion spending plan.
Joni Smith, a former teacher of the year and a member of the task force, made an impassioned plea for the move and said teachers are often saddled with huge expenses that go with the honor.
Others said using state dollars for the awards is outside the scope of a funding plan that is supposed to provide a minimum education for students.
Songy said after the meeting that, while the governor would like to get behind more dollars for public schools, he is restricted by the reality of ongoing budget problems.
The regular legislative session begins on March 12.
BESE has to submit its spending request to the Legislature by March 15.
That debate often splits between submitting a request based on school needs versus one grounded in political and financial realities.
Before the 2017 regular session the task force recommended a $35 million increase in basic school aid.
A special session is expected before the regular gathering to see if Democrat Edwards and GOP legislative leaders, especially in the House, can reach agreement on how to address the shortfall.