Capitol Views: Breakaway school district bill fails again; school funding squeaks through
The debate was much briefer today, but the end result was the same, as the House refused to approve a constitutional vote on the breakaway school district for southeast Baton Rouge. The vote was 60-35, six less than the vote on the bill taken earlier this week. After two votes, the bill is dead for the session.
Despite renewed lobbying, supporters were not able to turn Democrats who voted no or didn't vote last time. In addition, four Republicans who voted for the bill earlier were absent for today's vote.
"Those people deserved a vote," the bill's author, Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, said following the vote. "They worked for over a year on this."
They will have to wait until next year.
—In recent years, approval of the Minimum Foundation Program for school funding has not been controversial or difficult to pass. But the situation was different this year, given the major policy changes made in K-12 education. With continued resistance from school superintendents and legislators of both parties over big decreases in local funding due to money being pulled out to fund private-school scholarships, the $3.4 billion funding formula sparked a hot debate for over two hours today that ended in the resolution squeaking through, 53-49.
Despite lobbying from governor's aides, even some legislators who voted for the voucher bill had second thoughts when they saw how the proposed formula affected their school districts.
If the House rejected the new formula and BESE doesn't submit a new one, the MFP would revert to last year's formula, which could affect the voucher program.
"Let's stick with reform, but let's fund it in the right way," argued Rep. Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse.
More opposition stemmed from a formula change that moved eight of the state's first charter schools into the MFP, after receiving full state support for a decade. Representatives argued that the transfer of funding could negatively affect desegregation cases in rural parishes. Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, made the point that the flat state funding over past years, given inflation, has caused a decrease in overall support, which would be worsened by the transfer of legacy charter school funding to local districts.
Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, complained that BESE inserted policy changes in what is supposed to be a funding formula. He introduced an amendment to delete BESE funds for a post-secondary education program for students who had graduated high school.
"They're trying to shove this stuff down our throat," he said, adding later, "I'm not eating this crap anymore."
His amendment was challenged on a point of order for making an unconstitutional change in the formula submitted by BESE, which can only be accepted or rejected. But Speaker Chuck Kleckley ruled that Edwards' amendment did not affect the formula. The change was adopted, 62-38, with a number of Republicans voting with most Democrats.
The amendment did not satisfy Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, a former school superintendent, who cited future policy directives and numerous unfunded mandates.
"I've never seen a formula this convoluted and this bad," he railed. "This is a bad, bad piece of legislation."
In closing, a chagrined Education Chairman Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, warned, "You're going to kill education if you kill this bill." He said he heard members early in the session claim they wanted reform, but now, "I'm concerned if a lot of these people really want change."
Just barely, the House agreed.
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