Overcoming the concerns of local school officials, a House legislative committee on Tuesday shelved a bill that would have allowed local school systems to disregard state-ordered curriculum and program mandates that didn’t come with funding.
“We hopefully have started the conversation,” state Rep. Kenny Havard said after the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted without objection to defer House Bill 531.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said local school officials complain that the Minimum Foundation Program, called MFP and used to fund the state’s public schools, has not increased in four years but costs have gone up, leaving school districts to pay for programs without state aid.
Havard said he tried — to no avail — to discuss the concerns of local school districts with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the elected panel that makes policy for the public schools, and officials with the state Department of Education.
“They did like they do and delayed and delayed and delayed,” Havard said. “So, I wrote it up on my own.”
Havard amended HB531 to allow local public school systems to, basically, ignore any state mandate that was not paid for by state government.
“We don’t have a choice. We have to do it and we have to pay for it,” said Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central Community School System and president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
State Rep. John Schroder Sr., R-Covington, said he was “a little disappointed” that the local school boards and the Education Department could not sit down and work out the concerns.
Erin Bendily, the Education Department’s assistant superintendent for Policy and External Affairs, said department officials had met with Havard but could come to no agreement.
She said what Havard and local school boards sought in HB531 was too broad and would conflict with the state’s necessity to guarantee federal rules are followed.
Bendily said the Jindal administration has increased actual dollars spent on MFP over the past four years.
But the amount spent per pupil has remained the same and public school populations have increased, she said.
Part of the issue is that state law, in some cases, requires local school districts to pay for programs, she said.
When financial times were good, the state picked up the tab.
When government revenues fell, the state had to re-evaluate its expenditures and, in some cases, chose to stop paying the locals’ share, Bendily said.