Louisiana’s annual public school funding formula is built on outdated student count projections, skewing the budgeting and leading to repeated midyear funding shortages, a state economist said Monday.
Louisiana had a $43 million shortfall in the 2011-12 school financing plan, which was made up by budget cuts approved last week. A year earlier, the school funding formula was short $42 million. The year before that, it had a $52 million midyear gap.
Shortages develop because lawmakers and the governor budgeted for fewer students than actually attended school in the year.
Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, said the process is not working because the funding formula uses current year student counts to build the next year’s budget, instead of using projections for how many will attend school in the next budget year when the money is to be spent.
“It’s a pretty big draw on the general fund, and there’s no serious attempt - it doesn’t seem like it at least - to predict the fundamental driver, kid count,” Albrecht told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
The $3.4 billion public school funding formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, divvies up dollars to school districts based on the number and type of students they have and the individual districts’ wealth. A portion of the formula includes a flat amount per student paid to the district.
Officials attribute part of the annual increases to students moving from private and parochial schools to public schools in the tight economy. About 697,000 children are in Louisiana’s public schools.
It’s not uncommon for the numbers to be adjusted and a midyear shortfall to emerge. But combined with other hefty budget problems in recent years, the school formula shortfall has become more problematic.
Last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers had to close a $251 million deficit that included lower-than-projected income and severance taxes for the bulk of the problem, but also the $43 million gap for under-budgeting the school funding formula.
The administration and lawmakers tapped into additional state and federal funds to fill part of the deficit and agreed to slash funding from public colleges, close two state-run health facilities and eliminate nearly 300 state government jobs to rebalance the $25 billion state budget.
© 2011 The Associated Press