MFP an end-run around Constitution, LFT says

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(Baton Rouge – February 28, 2013) Describing today’s release of a proposed Minimum Foundation Program formula as an attempted end run around the State Constitution, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan urged lawmakers to declare it dead on arrival when the legislature convenes on April 8.

A proposal included in the $3.46 billion dollar school funding formula would allow local school districts to divert MFP funds to pay for vouchers at private and religious schools. Late last year, a Baton Rouge district court ruled that the current formula, which pays for vouchers from the state level, violates a Constitutional prohibition against spending MFP funds on non-public schools.

“This is a sad attempt to sidestep a clear constitutional mandate, and we hope that the legislature does not fall into the trap,” Monaghan said.

“This is simply a dodge, but it isn’t artful,” he continued. “The simple fact is that if it is illegal for the state to spend MFP funds on private and religious schools, it would also be illegal for local school districts to do the same thing.”

Under the proposal released by Superintendent of Education John White today, vouchers would still be funded through the MFP, but would not be paid directly by the state.

To sweeten the deal, the state would allow local school boards to recoup any savings that would occur if voucher tuition is less than the per-pupil amount allocated for the district.

“A district court has ruled that MFP funds cannot be used for vouchers,” Monaghan said, “and the State Supreme Court will hear the case on March 19. Obviously, the Jindal administration fears the outcome of that hearing and is trying to hedge its bets.”

The Federation is also critical of the department’s decision to freeze funding for the MFP for the fifth year in a row, Monaghan said.

“Fixed costs have increased dramatically and the state has placed new mandates on school districts, but funding has remained static,” Monaghan said. “Failure to include the traditional 2.75% growth factor in the MFP has cost school districts nearly $200 million. That is precipitating a crisis in public education.”

The MFP formula is expected to be approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its March meeting. It will then go to the legislature for approval. Lawmakers have the option of accepting or rejecting the formula, but may not change it. If it is rejected, it will go back to BESE for further consideration.