Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget would force layoffs of about 100 of the state Department of Education’s roughly 300 employees, state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday.
White said he was originally told the governor’s budget plan could result in 45 agency workers losing their jobs. “We thought we could find a way through that,” he said.
The superintendent said that target shot up to 100 or so workers when the spending plan was unveiled on Friday. “We have never seen that number before and so we are working through it,” White said.
Meetings were scheduled for Monday afternoon on how to grapple with the possible reductions. “I have already let our senior managers know that we need to be prepared to have reductions in the agency,” White said.
Jindal administration officials said White’s comments are off target and rely too heavily on limited parts of the governor’s spending plans.
They said the department’s budget would be trimmed by 17 percent, which officials said is in line with how other agencies would be treated.
The state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall to maintain spending at current levels for the financial year that begins on July 1.
The governor’s budget faces a lengthy review by the Legislature, which convenes on April 13.
White said Friday that, under Jindal’s plan, the department’s executive budget would be cut by 48 percent and dollars for standardized tests by 47 percent, and he said the latter could cost the state up to $800 million in federal aid.
The budget dispute is just the latest in a long series of disagreements between the governor and his hand-picked but now estranged superintendent.
Jindal and White have been embroiled in a battle for months over Common Core and the accompanying assessments, and those exams could be affected in the future if the governor’s plan wins final approval.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a prepared statement that it is misleading to focus on the administrative portion of the education budget “without the full context.”
Nichols said Jindal’s priorities focus on state aid for public schools, the state prekindergarten program called LA4 and state aid for vouchers, which would rise by 9 percent.
The $3.6 billion aid package for public schools would be frozen except to add $34 million for 6,284 more students enrolled in public schools statewide.
The president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said Monday that Jindal’s plan to chop state aid to the state Department of Education is “fairly draconian.”
“And this is coming from a member of BESE for streamlining the department and who has historically supported that,” said Chas Roemer, president of the panel.
Roemer, a former ally of the governor, said the tests whose funding is in dispute are a key part of the state’s highly rated accountability system. “People forget that we had a period in our state where we lived by social promotions,” he said.
“There basically were no standards and no accountability measures,” Roemer said. “To take steps that would eliminate accountability I don’t think are the right steps to take.”
Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, another backer of Common Core, said the state’s accountability system depends on quality assessments.
“It is very early,” Appel said, adding that once the legislative session begins on April 13, White will be able to tell lawmakers “what the department would look like” with a 48 percent cut.
Even if the Legislature eases any budget cuts on White’s agency that action could be vetoed by Jindal.
One option already mentioned would be for legislators to somehow link education dollars to a program that the governor would be reluctant to veto.
White said the proposed reductions, aside from tests, would affect state-issued letter grades for public schools, vouchers, charter school authorizations, and teacher and principal evaluations.
“So this is a sweeping set of reductions we were not aware of until Friday, impacting dozens of policies that have been on the books for years,” he said.
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