Last Modified: Friday, June 01, 2012 10:07 PM
The state House narrowly passed the $3.4 billion public school funding formula for 2012-2013 after removing language that would have required the state to give college scholarships to high school students who graduate early.
The 2012-2013 Minimum Foundation Program to fund public schools was created and approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in February.
The MFP would have required that beginning in 2013-14, public high school students who graduate a year or a semester early receive funds to be used within a year of graduating to pay for higher education tuition, fees or housing.
Lawmakers who oppose the provision believe it is unconstitutional to spend money in the formula on college tuition. They also said BESE was trying to create programs without proper legislative review.
The House’s 53-49 vote sends the measure back to the Senate so it can consider the change. That discussion is expected to occur Sunday.
“This would remove dollars that are intended for families to be able to use for their child’s college education and would do harm to a reform that is meant to ensure students in our state can achieve a college degree,” said State Superintendent John White.
“I feel that we often focus on students with the highest need, which I understand. But when our students have the ability to excel, we need to put some focus on that, as well. I regret that part was taken out,” said BESE member Holly Boffy.
White and BESE are urging the Senate to reject the change. Should that happen, the legislation will go to committee. If senators accept the House’s change, it will go back to BESE.
Penny Dastugue, BESE president, said the board will reapprove the current MFP and ask Gov. Bobby Jindal to convene a special session.
“We are fully committed to the formula as we approved it. It was a year of debate and discussion, and it’s a formula that the board overwhelmingly approved,” Dastugue said. “We feel very strongly that it establishes the goals of public education in the state. What we’re saying is that we fully support the formula as we submitted it.”
In the past, if BESE’s MFP was not approved, the state would use the previous year’s formula. But White said the old formula would not work with the new voucher program.
“You would have a bunch of kids in the scholarship program with no line in the budget, and that will have to be added. You have students in Type II charter schools for whom there would have to be lines in the budget,” White said. “These are all kids that are not funded by the local area. It’s flagrantly unequitable. That would be necessitated by reverting to the old formula.”
This year’s MFP includes major changes to align with the Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform initiatives.
The House approved the following provisions in the formula:
• Scholarship students will be included in the public school student count of the local school district and would be eligible to receive the state and local share of the MFP. The local school district will be required to pay any participating nonpublic school for the scholarship students it serves.
• BESE will establish a reduced maximum for participating private schools that do not provide services for special-education students — which will be less than the full per pupil MFP.
• BESE will be limiting the maximum annual tuition increase that participating schools can charge within the program.
• BESE will require school districts to pay for eligible public school students to enroll in dual-enrollment courses at universities, community and technical colleges for post-secondary credit, online courses required for graduation, industry-based certification programs and other providers approved by BESE. Districts will have to pay either the cost of the course or one-sixth of 90 percent of the per pupil MFP, whichever is less.