Sen. Neil Riser, left, R-Columbia, talks on the House floor with Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, on Sunday at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 05, 2012 2:25 PM
BATON ROUGE — The House gave final legislative approval to the $3.4 billion Minimum Foundation Program, which funds public — and nonpublic — pre-K-through-12-grade education in Louisiana.
The formula also pays some college tuition and fees for the first time.
Only two representatives from Southwest Louisiana supported the funding formula: House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Reps. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville.
Against were Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek; and Frank Howard, R-Many.
The vote was 51-49 — with most House members present — but the MFP didn’t get the usual 53-vote majority required. Kleckley ruled that approval would only take a majority of the 101 members who were present and voting. That is exactly what it received.
The Senate approved the formula Sunday with a 24-15 vote. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte and a member who represents Allen Parish, supported the MFP. Against were Sens. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur; Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings; and John Smith, R-Leesville.
House opponents took turns at the microphone to complain about the MFP funding nonpublic schools for the first time in state history. State and local money will be used to finance scholarships for students from low-income families so they can attend schools of their choice.
The scholarships are student vouchers that are part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform program. Defeat of the MFP would have been considered a threat to the voucher program because state and local funding for the program could have been lost.
Another feature of the MFP was also challenged. It would use some state school dollars to help high school students taking college courses pay for their university tuition and fees. The House stripped that part of the formula Sunday, but the Senate put it back in.
Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, sponsored the resolution stripping the college funding that the Senate restored. He said it poses constitutional issues just like the use of state and local funds to pay for nonpublic education.
Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, a former school superintendent in Livingston Parish, said House members had been cajoled and threatened to support the MFP.
“We’ve been told we don’t care about kids,” he said. “I take offense to that and will continue to take offense to that.”
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said the use of public money for private education links the state to religion, something that hasn’t happened in this country during the 235 years of its existence. He said it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, urged the House to vote against the MFP because it could fund Islamic education in Louisiana. “I can’t vote for funding Islamic schools,” Havard said.
Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, handled the MFP resolution. Carter got some howls from his colleagues when he said just because schools applied didn’t mean they would be approved.
The state Department of Education website listed the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans in Kenner as one of the applicants for the voucher program. However, a check of the website Monday showed the school’s application had been withdrawn.