There was bound to be a fight over the new funding formula for public schools in New Orleans, not least because any formula is going to create losers and winners in the short term. And given that New Orleans’ public school landscape is filled with publicly funded but independently run charter schools, there are many moving parts to any decision.
So what happened? State law mandated a new formula and a broad-based committee of education and nonprofit leaders settled on a final proposal.
This process creates a reasonable basis for the Orleans Parish School Board to adopt the formula, not least because a funding scheme that covers charter schools might well make it easier for some of those now under the state’s umbrella to come back to OPSB.
While we recognize the legitimate questions about the formula, we urge OPSB to look with favor on this new plan.
Who are the losers? The gifted-education schools, for they have few special-education students.
The formula is designed to give the latter schools the funding they need. For one student with a significant emotional or physical handicap, the school might spend many times the average cost of a child in a regular classroom.
Schools that admit only students with academic or arts qualifications aren’t going to have, typically, many of these high-cost children. But the schools with selective admissions have a different mission, and some may feel they are being punished for their success.
The new formula sets up a 2 percent floor for the first-year cut, but that is real money in a service business like education, where most of the cash goes to pay salaries. Maybe, advocates of the new formula say, other funding can be found to make the losers whole, but “maybe” doesn’t make cutting budgets easier for the charters affected.
We think it is a legitimate concern about whether “equity” requires further cuts in gifted education down the road, with 2 percent being only the first cut and not the last.
The argument is that there is more equity in the formula, which must be structured as it is because New Orleans is not like a traditional school district, where superintendents allocate funds to schools under their power.
What is ultimately the case is that New Orleans’ system requires a new approach to funding if it is to avoid either further intervention from state policymakers, or civil-rights lawsuits from advocates for students with disabilities.
This new formula might not be the permanent solution but it provides a basis for students who are expensive to educate to receive the services they need. That isn’t going to please everyone but it is the bottom line of the current discussion.