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BESE Report January 2017

Louisiana Federation of Teachers
BESE Report
January, 2017

Governor announces MFP freeze for 2017-18

UPDATE: At a January 27 meeting of the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Budget, Gov. John Bel Edwards pledged that there will be no cuts to this year's Minimum Foundation Program, family services or department of corrections in a special session slated to run from February 13-23.

Citing a crisis in the state budget, Gov. John Bel Edwards says he will not recommend an increase in the 2017-18 Minimum Foundation Program.

Up until the Jindal years, it was customary to include a 2.75% inflation or growth factor to the MFP every year. Since then, however, there has only been one increase in MFP funding, and it was about half of the usual amount.

Donald Songy, education policy advisor to the governor, announced the decision at a meeting of the MFP Task Force.

LFT President Larry Carter said that he is disappointed, but acknowledged that the current $304 million mid-year budget shortfall and a looming deficit for next year forced the governor’s hand. Supporters of public education had hoped the governor would put an MFP increase in the budget, and then allow BESE and the legislature to decide on whether to include it in the formula.

The current year’s MFP stands at about $3.7 billion, and would have been increased by about $35 million in basic state aid for public schools.

Songy said the governor does intend to support an $8 million increase in state funding for high-needs students, and another $10 million for enhanced high school courses. Those funds would be budgeted outside the MFP.

BESE approves $1.5 million for teacher residency program

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved spending $1.5 million to begin changing new teacher education to include a one-year residency program.

The money will be spent on grants to universities and school systems. The aim, according to BESE, is “providing teacher candidates with a full-year classroom residency alongside an experienced mentor teacher, coupled with a competency-based curriculum that will provide them with the knowledge and skills needed for their first day of teaching.”

The money will come from existing state and federal funds. Grants will be awarded based on a funding formula for Louisiana universities with approved undergraduate teacher preparation programs, and for 18 school districts that are participating in the program.

When the program was discussed at last October’s BESE meeting, LFT President Larry Carter was skeptical. He pointed out that a federal grant to support the program will only last a few years, after which it is unclear how the program will be funded.

While supporting the idea of a residency, Carter pointed out that this plan conflicts with state rules allowing teachers to earn alternate certifications and sets up a two-tiered system. Those who attend a state college of education will have done all of the rigorous preparation, while teachers hired from alternative certification tracks might not be as prepared.

BESE elects Jones, Boffy and Orange-Jones to leadership posts

A leadership team comprising two current officers and one new one was elected at BESE’s general meeting.

Members elected District 5 Member Dr. Gary Jones as president. Dr. Holly Boffy (District 7) was retained as vice-president, and Kira Orange-Jones (District 2) kept her position as secretary treasurer.

Despite committee approval, BESE rejects charter application

A controversial Avoyelles Parish charter school application was rejected when the full BESE board deadlocked in a 5-5 vote.

The previous day, a BESE committee had recommended approval of Red River Charter Academy over the objection of Superintendent John White.

The potential value of the school was not an issue – White said that he had hoped an agreement could be reached to approve the school. But the Avoyelles Parish School Board opposed the charter, saying that it might conflict with an ongoing desegregation lawsuit.

White said that he hopes both sides can come together and agree on a future for the charter school once the federal issues are resolved.

The board tied 5-5 because District 5 Member Dr. Gay Jones recused himself from the vote. He has been an expert witness in the federal desegregation suit.

Dyslexia charter school wins extension

A Baton Rouge charter school dedicated to teaching dyslexic students was granted an extension of its charter in spite of a state letter grade of “F.” Because of the school’s special mission, supporters said, a different grading system should be designed.

Louisiana Key Academy, which enrolls children in grades 1-5, has about 300 students and plans to add a sixth grade next year, and eventually grow to include eight grade levels.

It is one of two schools in the state aimed at educating children with dyslexia. Both will be graded under a new rubric to be designed by the Department of Education.

The school’s chairperson is Dr. Laura Cassidy, wife of U.S.  Senator Bill Cassidy.

Amid funding concerns, BESE okays Baton Rouge charter

A Baton Rouge charter school whose funding may be at risk because of an ongoing lawsuit was approved by BESE.

UP Elementary is part of the state Recovery School District. A lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Association of Educators and several school systems challenging state funding for those schools has been upheld by a state appeal court, and is awaiting a hearing by the State Supreme Court.

If the suit prevails, those schools would be ineligible for MFP funds because they would not be considered public schools as defined by the state constitution.

In spite of the controversy, BESE approved UP’s charter application. In other business, the state board approved charter applications for Collegiate Academies in Baton Rouge and Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy in Lafayette.