Funding for the future

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 18, 2014

By Monique Roth

BATON ROUGE – Public school funding is once again making headlines, as more changes are being proposed to the current formulas that determine dollar amounts given to each school district.

Each year, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must determine the cost of educating all public school students in Louisiana, known as the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP, and develop a formula to distribute funding to public schools.

The MFP Task Force, comprised of legislators, school board members, superintendents, teachers, parents and community and education organizations, was created several years ago to provide guidance to BESE on improving the formula to most equitably and effectively fund schools and students.

Jim Melohn, chief financial officer of St. Charles Parish schools, is a Task Force member and said he feels as though there’s lots of momentum behind this year’s recommendations. He added there are some key recommendations that will greatly benefit the River Parishes specifically.

The Task Force’s advisory recommendations presented to BESE for the 2014-2015 school year included a statewide funding increase of 2.75 percent, which translates into approximately $69 million and comes with a recommendation that BESE not restrict use of the funds and instead allow districts to best accommodate their diverse needs.

Last year, restrictions tied to the money included that 50 percent of each parish’s money had to go toward teacher’s salaries.

Also included in this year’s recommendations was placing a great emphasis on career education and an expansion of current Dual Enrollment, TOPS core courses, remedial coursework and technical education courses.

Melohn thinks the increase of funding for technical education courses, which are historically very expensive to run, will be especially beneficial to River Parishes students.

With the economy here being so industry heavy, Melohn said students will benefit from opportunities to study more technical education topics while still in high school.

 “Our members are pleased with the new formula, which will allocate additional dollars for technical training in high-wage, high-demand jobs, as well as provide a mechanism to fund technical courses,” said Stephen Waguespack, Task Force member and president of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry. “Workforce development is critical to our members’ a bility to do business in Louisiana.”

A doubling of the current size of the High-Risk Pool was also proposed by the Task Force to provide additional, targeted funds for serving students with disabilities. The recommendation includes adding $4 million to the High-Risk Pool to fund students whose disabilities require much higher costs on a case-by-case basis.

Regarding students with dyslexia, the Task Force recommends that the Louisiana Department of Education, or LDE, study the treatment of students with dyslexia in the formula and provide a proposal to BESE as part of the formula recommendation.

The Task Force also recommended that the LDE provide a high-level technology readiness overview for each district at BESE’s March 2014 meeting, relative to the standards required for new assessments for daily teaching and learning.

 A final Task Force recommendation was that a study be undertaken by financial and policy experts to restructure the MFP for greater clarity, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness in the future.

“These recommendations are a positive, responsible step toward addressing critical short-term needs and establishing a solid framework for the future,” said Jay Guillot, Task Force chairman. “The Task Force-approved proposal recognizes the diverse needs of students and school districts and the flexibility necessary to accommodate those needs, while requiring strong accountability.”

The MFP Task Force report was presented this week to BESE for consideration, where it was supported. A final MFP resolution and formula will be approved by BESE and sent to the Louisiana Legislature no later than March 15.