Despite pleas for a $40 million increase, Louisiana's top school board Monday requested a standstill budget in basic state aid for public schools.
The request now goes to the Legislature, which began its 2018 regular session at noon.
State Superintendent of Education John White and Gary Jones, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said budget concerns explained the standstill vote.
Jones said that, while he understood the push for an increase, "we are also having to deal with practicalities," a reference to state budget problems. "To be appearing to ask for an increase when everyone else is likely looking at a significant decrease sends up a message that is hard for us to defend," Jones said.
He noted that BESE's resolution asks lawmakers to return the request to the board if an infusion of dollars changes the legislative landscape.
Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier recommended a freeze in state school aid, which has been frozen for nine of the past 10 years.
The state faces a roughly $700 million shortfall in funding state services starting July 1.
A special session to grapple with state money problems, another in a series, is set for later this year, possibly in May.
Both the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force and the Superintendents' Advisory Council, which advise BESE, earlier endorsed a $40 million boost in state school aid.
An influential task force Tuesday recommended a hike of about $40 million in basic state aid for public schools.
Officials of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Association of Principals and Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools urged BESE to seek a $40 million increase, which is 1 percent.
Debra Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, said her group would be remiss if it failed to seek a hike in state school aid.
Schum said Louisiana's teacher shortage and other factors mean there is a dire need to better fund public schools.
Otherwise "we are not doing our jobs as advocates for education in this state," she said.
School leaders complain that standstill budgets cause problems because of rising costs of health insurance and retirement and routine inflationary increases for a wide range of expenses.
Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said her group earlier pushed for a 2.75 percent increase in state school aid, long the traditional amount approved by the Legislature before state money problems became a yearly occurrence.
"We understand these are tough budget times for our state," Roemer told BESE. "However, we believe K-12 should be our top priority right now."
The state has about 700,000 students attending around 1,300 public schools.
The money helps pay for teachers salaries, textbooks and school supplies.
The state is spending $3.6 billion for the current school year.
The money goes through the Minimum Foundation Program, which is a formula used to allocate the dollars.
Jim Garvey, a BESE member who lives in Metairie, asked White why the state Department of Education's standstill request differed from the $40 million increase endorsed by the MFP Task Force and superintendents.
White said those groups took action before the failure earlier this month of a special session aimed at coming up with more revenue. "Circumstances changed," he said.
Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said some local districts rely on state aid for more than 70 percent of their dollars.
Faulk, former superintendent of the Central school system, said local officials have to come up financing to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and changes in state and district accountability systems.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said the MFP is supposed to add equity to school funding.
"Every year that there are no increases in state aid for education equity is diminished for those districts that struggle to raise funds at the local level," Richard said.
The MFP vote was a committee tally.
However, all 11 BESE members were on hand and final approval is expected on Tuesday morning.
The request is due by Thursday.
The Legislature can only accept or reject BESE's request but cannot change it.