State education spending can absorb a $4.4 million midyear budget cut without hurting essential services, state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday.

The reduction is part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to trim Louisiana’s shortfall of about $900 million by June 30.

The Legislature is holding a three-week special session to find ways to balance the books, including tax hikes, spending cuts and use of one-time dollars.

White told the House Appropriations Committee that the reductions include $945,000 in the state Department of Education’s administrative arm.

That includes elimination of about $400,000 used for meals when teachers attend a weeklong, summer professional development conference in New Orleans.

White said the gathering will be scaled back or local school systems will have to help with expenses.

The $945,000 cut also includes plans to contract with LSU for a study on the Minimum Foundation Program, Louisiana’s education spending formula.

The midyear spending reduction covers $1 million for LA4, the state’s key prekindergarten program.

White said that money was held back from spending amid earlier concerns about state budget problems.

Another $320,000 to upgrade data systems between the state and private schools was also eliminated.

In addition, the state will delay plans to set up online applications for vouchers.

The $4.4 million represents 0.3 percent of the $1.6 billion in state spending for the Department of Education.

White was peppered with questions on agency contracts, a recurring topic in a special session where spending is under scrutiny.

He said the department has about a dozen such agreements, including four for lawsuits and four for testing.

Edwards’ proposed spending for the financial year that begins July 1 — he calls it a worst-case scenario — would remove $42 million in state aid for vouchers, which would spark controversy.

In other areas, White told the Senate Finance Committee later in the day that online testing will be optional for school districts during Common Core-type tests April 25-29.

He said he expects most districts will use pencil and paper again, and the goal is for students statewide in grades three through eight to take the exams online in 2017.

White said the key issue is infrastructure, especially broadband, rather than devices.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.

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