New Orleans school board will take up controversial spending formula next week _lowres

 

The Orleans Parish School Board will take up a controversial new funding formula for the city’s public schools next week, likely setting up another emotional public debate over how to provide services for the city’s most vulnerable children.

The proposed funding method, which has divided school leaders, would shift more dollars to pay for students with special needs and cut some funding assigned to so-called “gifted and talented” students.

Two of the city’s selective-admission magnet schools, Lusher Charter School and Lake Forest Charter Elementary School, have promised to sue if the formula is approved.

With that in mind, the OPSB has been moving carefully.

Board members did not expect to have the final say on the new formula. A local working group of school leaders and other officials signed off on it last month, approving a formula that steps up per-pupil funding based on the needs of individual students.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took it up last week but unexpectedly left the most important details — the actual dollar amounts allotted to each category of student — to be sorted out by the local school district.

The local board may ultimately pass on going into specifics as well. President Seth Bloom said the board will vote only on whether to delegate authority over the formula to its superintendent, Henderson Lewis Jr., who has said he supports the working group’s approach.

Bloom declined to get into specifics about the legal considerations involved, but the attorney for Lusher and Lake Forest has outlined why he thinks board approval would be illegal.

In a letter to school officials last week, attorney James Brown said the OPSB is required to fund the schools under its supervision according to a state formula known as the Minimum Foundation Program. Deviating from that formula would violate the charter contracts under which Lusher and Lake Forest operate, he said.

Nearly all of the city’s public schools now operate as autonomous charters, with specifics such as funding, enrollment and accountability measures spelled out in detailed legal agreements.

Proponents of the new formula are likely counting on the idea that local superintendents like Lewis have the leeway to allocate MFP dollars within their districts as they see fit.

State officials have been referring to the MFP as a “block grant” given to local districts, with the implication that local officials can then sort out how much to give each school based on the needs of students at any particular campus.