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LFT urges rejection of education budget

LFT President Steve Monaghan says, "Reject the MFP."

(Baton Rouge – May 10, 2012) The Legislature should reject a proposed $3.4 billion public education budget because it violates the state constitution and could enrich as-yet unidentified private companies at the expense of public schools across the state, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

If the Minimum Foundation Program formula proposed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education goes forward, Monaghan said, it will constitute a radical redefinition of the meaning of public education. The plan would pay for a dramatic expansion of charter schools in the state, and for the first time make tuition for private and religious schools an official part of the education budget.

“This is the worst Minimum Foundation Program ever submitted,” Monaghan told the Senate Education Committee.

In spite of Monaghan’s objection, the committee voted four-to-one to report SCR 99 by Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) favorably to the full Senate.

One of the clearly stated aims of the MFP is the funding of vouchers, which Monaghan said would violate the state constitution. Because the constitution clearly states that the MFP is intended to provide funds to “all public elementary and secondary schools,” using that money for private and religious school tuition should require an amendment to the constitution.

That concern was ignored when BESE adopted the proposed MFP last February, Monaghan said. Members of the state board received the complicated, 40-page formula and its supporting documents on a Saturday night, then voted the following Monday at a specially called meeting, during which opponents were only allowed a few minutes to speak about the issue.

The conditions under which BESE adopted the MFP were far less than transparent, Monaghan said, coming after a contentious election in which unprecedented amounts of money were spent.

Contributions to BESE candidates amounted to more than $3 million. Large amounts came from out-of-state donors with ties to for-profit education companies.

The proposed MFP dovetails with one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature legislative issues, Act 2 of 2012, which calls for a dramatic rise in the number of virtual schools, home schools and charter schools created by corporations, businesses and industry providers.

The act also calls for an expansion of vouchers beyond the current experimental program in New Orleans. Private and religious school tuition will be covered statewide, and paid for out of the MFP instead of the current general fund program, which is capped at $10 million.

Supporters of these alternatives say that state education funds should “follow the child,” regardless of where the parents decide to send that child to school.

“But the money shouldn’t follow through the child into the pockets of some unknown investor or business,” Monaghan said.

That proliferation of new schools will create a huge planning problem for school boards around the state Monaghan said. Districts “have no idea of how many teachers they will have to hire, or how many students will be in their classrooms,” Monaghan said.

Prior to writing the new MFP, Monaghan said, the State Department of Education and BESE did no research on the possible impact of the new schools.

“They created no simulations regarding the new charter schools, and they did no simulations regarding vouchers,” he said. “The MFP should present what is known, but every school system will have to start from dealing with unknowns.”

According to the state constitution, the MFP is a formula developed by BESE. It provides each school system with a base amount of money for each student. That base amount is increased for students who have special needs, are on free or reduced lunch, and to reflect the school district’s ability to fund its needs.

Up until 2009, the MFP included an annual increase called a growth factor of at least 2.75%. There has been no growth factor in MFP formulas over the past four legislative sessions.

The legislature approves funding for the MFP. If lawmakers are unsatisfied with BESE’s formula, they can make suggestions, but may not change the formula. Their only options are to accept or reject BESE’s proposal.

If the MFP is rejected, BESE’s options are to either write a new formula or do nothing. If BESE does nothing, the MFP reverts to the previously adopted spending plan.

Now that the Senate Education Committee has approved the MFP, it must be referred to the Senate Finance Committee by the full Senate. It will then have to be approved by the House Education Committee and the House Appropriations Committee before final passage in the House of Representatives.