Louisiana Looks to Balance Budget Shortfall with Education Cuts

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The bipartisan, but GOP-controlled, Louisiana House Appropriations Committee has made a proposal to cut a minimum of $87 million from the state budget in addition to the $30 million that has already been suggested for elimination by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

Observers say the cuts mirror the collective mindset of the House Republican leadership who want to find additional spending decreases to avoid tax hikes, reports Julia O’Donoghue for The Times-Picayune.

Roughly half the reductions that are up for debate, which total up to $44 million, would be taken from funding for primary and secondary education. HB 122 was submitted by Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie). Five million dollars more would be taken from funding for private schools used to assist independent schools in following Louisiana regulations.

Along with these reductions, another $4.6 million would be cut from Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, along with the Alario Center in Westwego.

Two private prisons in the state would lose $1 million each. The reductions would have to occur, along with Edwards’ reduction proposals, before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

The $44 million reduction in funding to primary and secondary education will be carefully considered by the governor since it was Edwards who fought to get that amount placed in the budget last year when he was a state lawmaker. The budget Edwards is attempting to fix is the same budget that the governor agreed to vote on only because then Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget included the education increase.

The $44 million decrease is not personally directed at Edwards, according to Henry. He explained that the education funding that is being considered is one of the only remaining large amounts of money, $1.4 billion, still in the budget that is not restricted from being reduced.

In all, Louisiana is faced with a $940 million shortfall that lawmakers will be called upon to cover with reductions, new taxes, or both. And though every agency in the state and hundreds of programs will be affected, education will be taking the biggest hit, writes USA Today’s Greg Hilburn.

The public school financing formula called the Minimum Foundation Program cannot be touched, but the $44 million was not included in the formula since it was added at the last minute during the closing hours of last summer’s session.

Education officials have said that the cuts could harm both classroom instruction and spring standardized assessments, writes Ian Auzenne for KATC-TV. And Rep.Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) said he thinks the state needs to generate more revenue not take money away from already encumbered services, projects, and public programs.

“None of these cuts were pleasant,” said Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie). “That’s the political reality of where we are.”

The monies targeted for the 69 school districts pay teacher salaries, support special education instruction and career development classes, said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association. He added that the budget should not be balanced to the detriment of students across the state.

Higher education in the state is set to face cutbacks as well. On Wednesday, the Louisiana Capitol steps were covered with college students who were concerned that their schools could be closing mid-semester if deeper reductions take place. Gov. Edwards told the students that he was doing all he could to protect the colleges and universities, report KLFY-TV and the Associated Press.