Senate panel rejects Minimum Foundation program

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Monaghan: It’s time to involve all stakeholders in the discussion

(Baton Rouge – May 15, 2013) Citing a Supreme Court ruling that money from public education’s Minimum Foundation Program cannot be used to pay for private and religious school vouchers, the Senate Education Committee today rejected the $3.46 billion spending plan, and sent it back to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a rewrite.

Shortly after calling the meeting to order, Committee Chairman Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) stunned a hearing room full of people prepared to discuss the Senate Concurrent Resolution 23 by moving to reject the funding formula.

As adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last March, the MFP included funding for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, as well as for a “course choice” scheme that pays for students to take online courses from a variety of private providers.

Just a week ago, the State Supreme Court agreed with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and other plaintiffs that the constitution reserves MFP funds for public schools. While it may be legal to have voucher and course choice programs, the court ruled, they may not be subsidized by education funds.

The education committee’s action was a rebuff to BESE President Chas Roemer, who earlier in the week told a different Senate panel that there would be no need for his board to reconsider the MFP.

Roemer told the Senate Finance Committee that the MFP included language to exclude the voucher and course choice funding in the event that the high court agreed with the LFT.

But after having discussions with legal staff, Sen. Appel, said, he had come to the conclusion that the ruling by the high court “contradicts” the resolution adopted by BESE.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan praised the committee’s action, saying that it could lead to “a conversation about the direction our state is taking.”

The LFT president has been one of the MFP’s harshest critics since its adoption by BESE last March. Had the panel heard debate about the formula, Monaghan was prepared to list at least six specific objections to the plan.

Among those were problems with the way the MFP aimed to fund special education programs. Critics said the plan would discriminate against and segregate special needs students, and reduce funding for gifted and talented programs.

As he voted to reject the MFP, Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) asked BESE to make sure that proponents of special education programs are consulted as the board rewrites the formula.

Monaghan said he is hopeful that BESE will consider the storm of controversy that has rocked the state in the year since vouchers were approved.

“We now have a year of experience to help guide us in creating the formula,” he said. “I hope that BESE understands that all stakeholders should be involved in the discussion. We believe that a process of open, ready and willing collaboration is the only road to lasting, meaningful reforms.”