A committee of Louisiana's top school board voted Tuesday to ask the Legislature to keep state aid for two Lake Charles area school districts heavily damaged by Hurricane Laura at 90% of their original allocation even though many students have fled to other schools.
The full membership of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to endorse the proposal on Wednesday.
The assistance would apply to the Calcasieu Parish School District, which includes Lake Charles, and the nearby Cameron Parish school system.
Both suffered heavy damages when Category 4 Hurricane Laura struck on Aug. 27 and again on Oct. 9 when Category 2 Hurricane Delta roared through the same area.
State aid is linked to enrollment at schools statewide, and officials take annual headcounts on Oct. 1 and Feb. 1.
However, many of the roughly 30,000 students who attend Calcasieu Parish schools are scattered around the state and nation after 74 of 76 buildings were damaged by Hurricane Laura, said Beth Scioneaux, who oversees state school aid for the state Department of Education.
The district suffered an estimated $200 million in damages.
The Lake Charles public school system sustained about $300 million in damages when Hurricane Laura struck southwest Louisiana on Aug. 27, educ…
Without action both districts would suffer huge drops in state aid because enrollment has plummeted since the Legislature approved funding levels earlier this year.
The freeze at 90% of allocated levels will require legislation to win final approval during the special session, which has to end by 6 p.m. on Oct. 27.
It would also carry a pricetag of around $40 million, according to the state Department of Education.
Multiple resolutions are circulating in the Legislature asking BESE to act so that both school districts, and possibly more that were damaged by the hurricanes, are not subjected to wholesale cuts.
The state will rely on the results of the 2018-19 school report cards to show how classrooms are faring since key tests were canceled earlier …
Officials noted that, despite the loss of students, districts face ongoing costs for staff, health insurance and basic operating expenses.
In addition, districts face huge expenses for building repairs.
BESE member Holly Boffy, whose district includes the affected areas, urged colleagues to get behind the request.
Doris Voitier, a BESE member and superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, also praised the request.
Voitier said that, when her district was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it only collected 65% of its original allocation of state dollars.
She said ensuring that aid remains at 90% lets school officials know they can continue to operate until more is known about exact costs of the storms.
"This is a first step," said Tony Davis, chairman of the BESE committee that approved the request, said.
After heavy floods in the Baton Rouge area in 2016 the East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Tangipahoa school districts got more than $7 million from the state to help offset expenses.