LFT says “No” to education funding plan

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(Baton Rouge – January 6, 2014) Concerned about the legality of some changes to education funding as well as its lack of guaranteed pay raises for educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan today cast one of the only two votes against a plan proposed by the state’s Minimum Foundation Program Task Force.

The task force had been empanelled by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to suggest improvements to the MFP, a $3.4 billion formula used to funnel state education funds to local school boards.

Under the direction of BESE member Jay Guillot, the task force came up with five recommendations for the 2014-15 formula, which must be presented to the legislature in March. Monaghan said he had hoped the panel would vote on each recommendation separately. Since that was not allowed, he said, it was necessary to vote against the whole package.

The LFT president opposed a plan to include funding for the controversial Course Choice program in the MFP. Course Choice allows students to get credit for courses offered by individuals or organizations outside of the school system.

After the LFT and others challenged the state law creating Course Choice and a statewide school voucher program, the State Supreme Court ruled that MFP funds could only be spent on public schools.
 
Supporters of the task force plan said it got around the Supreme Court prohibition by sending Course Choice funds to local school districts, which would then disburse them to course providers. Monaghan said he does not believe that degree of separation will satisfy constitutional problems with the program.

The LFT president also opposed a proposal to reinstate an annual increase in the MFP without guaranteeing that some of the money would go to salaries for educators.

Up until five years ago, the MFP was automatically increased by 2.75 percent each year, with half of the increase dedicated to teacher pay raises in most school systems. But until this school year, Gov. Bobby Jindal prevented any increase in the per-pupil allotment.

In the 2013, session, lawmakers approved about $69 million in the budget for new K-12 funding, but the money was not included in the MFP. The task force’s recommendation is that the increase be included in the formula, but with no restriction on how it is spent by local school boards.

Monaghan said the old rule requiring school boards to use some of the increase on salaries was intended to make Louisiana teacher salaries competitive with other states.

“Remember that meeting the needs of teachers and school employees is also in the best interests of the children,” Monaghan told the task force.
 
Monaghan said the Federation could support three other recommendations from the panel, including:

  • Adding $4 million to the High Risk Pool to help pay for special education students whose disabilities require exorbitant costs.
  • Increasing the formula’s emphasis on technical education courses that prepare and certify students for high-wage opportunities in the Louisiana workforce.
  • Providing a high level technology readiness overview for each school district to meet standards required for new testing regimens.

Monaghan said the task force had at least two very positive results. The tone of the meetings established by Guillot was inclusive and collaborative, in contrast to the often contentious relations between BESE and other education stakeholders.

In the long term, Monaghan said, he was encouraged by Guillot’s willingness to begin discussions of the real cost of educating children in the state.
 
The Federation has long held that Louisiana should undertake an adequacy survey to determine how much money should be appropriated for schools, Monaghan said.