State Superintendent of Education John White told the state school board Friday morning he is worried about future support for public schools amid Louisiana’s potential $2 billion shortfall.
White told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that, for the past eight years, public schools were largely protected from funding cuts during a period of sporadic finances.
However, aid for public schools recently was threatened in the state House with a $44 million rollback.
That move was replaced with a House-passed $52 million reduction for the Department of Education, which White said would decimate the state’s voucher, testing and other programs.
The Senate Finance Committee has since trimmed that to about $2.5 million.
What the final figure will be is unclear with five days left in a special session called to grapple with the $900 million shortfall by June 30.
“I am worried about what is going to happen,” White told BESE, a reference to the financial year that begins July 1 and its possible impact on his department and state aid for public schools.
White made his comments shortly before BESE gave final approval to a standstill budget request to the Legislature for the 2016-17 school year.
The $3.7 billion plan to fund public schools will be reviewed by the Legislature during a nearly three-month session that begins March 14.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he supports the proposal and called it the best public schools can expect during Louisiana’s worst state government budget crisis since the 1980s.
White said state support for his department has dropped from about $60 million per year when he became superintendent in 2012 to about $35 million now, which he called acceptable.
That would fall to $32 million or $33 million with the latest reduction plan — it is pending in the Senate — and White said it can be done without hurting core services. “It is a very different agency than it used to be,” the superintendent said.
Unfilled early childhood education seats and a cutback in reimbursements for private schools are likely targets.
However, in light of previous reductions and the $2 billion shortfall, White said the state Department of Education could face furloughs, “significant layoffs” and trimming “essential services” depending on how the budget troubles play out.
“That is just something you need to be aware of,” he said.
The $2 billion may be reduced by half or so depending on the outcome of the special session.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, told BESE a second special session in June or July likely will be needed to tackle budget problems after the regular session ends June 6.
BESE also gave final approval to Common Core revisions that were recommended by the 26-member Standards Review Committee.
Final approval of the changes followed a 21/2-hour public hearing that ended at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
Whether the revised rules should be delayed until the 2017-18 school year remains in dispute.
The alterations next face scrutiny from the state House and Senate education committees and Edwards.
Lawmakers and the governor can only endorse or reject the recommendations, not change them.
The lone “no” vote on BESE was cast by Kathy Edmonston, who lives in Gonzales.
All three Edwards appointees backed the revamped reading, writing and math benchmarks.
The governor, a Common Core critic, has not made any decision on the changes.