In a new sign of an escalating feud, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget plan would delete nearly half of state dollars for standardized tests and endanger $800 million in federal aid, state Superintendent of Education John White said Friday.
The proposal also would cut the operating budget of the state Department of Education by 48 percent amid an ongoing dispute between White and Jindal over Common Core, he said.
In a prepared statement, White said the governor’s budget blueprint would eliminate dollars for ACT exams, a test of college readiness; exams for special education students; and others that show parents how their children are progressing.
“Likewise, the reductions jeopardize Louisiana’s long-standing commitment to accountability to the state’s taxpayers,” he said.
“Such a drastic reduction may prevent our state from complying with state and federal law and may result in the loss of $800 million in funding for Louisiana’s schools,” he said.
White made the comments shortly after Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols finished outlining spending plans for the financial year that begins July 1 to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
The proposal will be reviewed by the Legislature during the session that begins April 13 before any final resolution is reached.
The state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall in revenues to maintain current spending levels.
In another key part of the governor’s budget proposal, state aid for public schools essentially would be frozen for the sixth time since 2008.
Jindal and White have been embroiled in a heated dispute over Common Core for months, including courtroom battles.
The Republican governor, a former Common Core backer, opposes the standards and wants them out of Louisiana classrooms.
White, who was the governor’s handpicked choice for superintendent, backs the overhaul in reading, writing and math standards.
A spinoff dispute over state testing contracts has frequently pitted White against Nichols.
At times, the two top officials have engaged in dueling news conferences amid legal and other developments.
Despite legal challenges by Jindal, the backers of Common Core have prevailed so far.
About 300,000 students in grades three through eight are set to take tests on the standards March 16-20.
However, new efforts to shelve Common Core are expected in the upcoming session, and now the issue appears to have spilled over to the volatile budget battle as well.
Under Jindal’s proposal, the state Department of Education’s operating budget would be trimmed from $48.8 million now to $25.4 million, according to agency figures.
Funds for standardized tests, including the next round of Common Core exams, would drop from $12.2 million to $6.5 million.
White, who did not appear at the nearly four-hour budget hearing, referred questions to aides.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana Schools Boards Association, said the Jindal-White differences are taking a toll on education. “As our state leaders continue to bicker about public education issues, the local school districts are caught in the crossfire,” Richard said.
Even before the budget proposal was unveiled on Friday, there were rumblings that White’s agency and state test contracts would be targeted.
Earlier this week, White told reporters he was concerned that Jindal’s spending plans would omit dollars for key tests.
Aides to the governor dismissed the comments.
Dollars for the state’s roughly 1,300 public schools go through a complex formula called the Minimum Foundation Program.
Schools are getting $3.6 billion in the current financial year.
The only increase this time, about $35 million, would be for 6,284 additional students attending public schools statewide.
An education task force has recommended a 2.75 percent increase in state aid for public schools, which is about $75 million.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will make its formal request to the Legislature by April 3.
Richard said Jindal’s proposal is disappointing to local boards and superintendents.
“We understand the budget problems that exist,” he said. “But there hasn’t been a fiscal year where there hasn’t been budget problems.”
Educators say the aid is crucial amid rising retirement and health care expenses, inflation and building needs.
The governor’s public schools budget includes a 9 percent increase in state aid for vouchers, to $46.1 million.
Vouchers are state aid for some students to attend private schools if they meet income and other requirements.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/