More than 700,000 public school students would face another freeze in basic state aid under a plan recommended Tuesday by Louisiana's top school board.
The panel, without dissent, voted to send the Legislature a funding proposal that is essentially the same as the current school year amid persistent state budget problems.
The outline for school aid mirrors one spelled out in January by Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration.
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Backers said that, because of recurring money problems afflicting all state services, a freeze in basic state aid for public schools is the most realistic hope.
"It will keep schools relatively stable," state Superintendent of Education John White said.
Others argued that whatever new money is headed for education -- $18 million at this point -- should be sent to local school districts for educators to spend on their most pressing needs.
Michael Faulk, superintendent of the highly-rated Central school system, said districts statewide face a $38 million hike in retirement costs, among other rising expenses.
State aid for about 720,000 public school students in Louisiana is about to take its first n…
"We have to pay it," Faulk told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Retirement costs are gobbling up nearly $1 for every $3 in new aid for education, officials said.
Under the plan recommended Tuesday, the $18 million in new money would be split two ways.
About $8 million would be used for high-need students.
The other $10 million would be used for dual enrollment, which allows students to earn college or career credits while in high school.
White said that, under current money limits, districts are only reimbursed for about 25 percent of those expenses.
"We know there are these demands," he said.
The recommendation, which won committee approval, is expected to be endorsed by the entire board on Wednesday.
Ten of 11 panel members were on hand for the committee meeting, which often happens on high-profile issues.
The plan is due to the Legislature by March 15.
The 2017 regular session begins on April 10.
Lawmakers can accept or reject BESE's proposal but cannot change it.
The BESE plan runs counter to one endorsed by the Minimum Foundation Task Force, which includes Faulk and others educators.
That panel backed a $35 million increase in basic state aid, which would be 1.375 percent hike in per pupil spending, half of the traditional amount in brighter budget times.
That group said a boost in basic state aid should be the top priority for any new dollars, ahead of high-needs students and dual enrollment.
The vote was 12-6.
Scott Richard, a member of the task force, told BESE the group's recommendations "were very well vetted, very well thought out."
Doris Voitier, a BESE member and superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, said her personal preference would be to seek a hike in basic state school aid.
But Voitier said that, because of state budget problems, she thinks legislators would be more willing to go along with increased spending in targeted areas.
Voiter is an Edwards appointee.
Donald Songy, education policy adviser for the governor, told BESE the administration would gladly back more dollars for public schools if "for some reason" the state's financial picture brightens.
Songy in January told the MFP Task Force that Edwards considered and rejected a $35 million hike for public schools to ensure a realistic budget.
Faulk noted that dollars for public schools, allocated outside of normal channels, were trimmed from $44 million two years ago to $20 million in 2016.
Advocates of other state services have said public schools have emerged better than others by avoiding outright cuts, like colleges and universities have experienced.
State aid for public schools has been mostly frozen since 2009.
The aid goes through a funding method called the Minimum Foundation Program.
Total spending is $3.7 billion for the current school year.