Louisiana Legislators Push, Pull on Education Budget

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Louisiana Senate Finance Committee has revealed a plan for spending $258 million more to address the state's $600 million financial deficit for the budget year beginning on July 1. That's good news to some, but that money would come out of K-12 funding, which does not make the Gov. John Bel Edward (D) administration happy.

According to Julia O'Donoghue of The Times-Picayune, the legislators are also attempting to boost funding for universities and colleges in the state.

Last year, when Edwards was a member of the House, he dug up an additional $44.2 million for public education. The new budget plan would take most of that money, leaving only $6.2 million of the allocation in place.

House leadership was curious as to why the Senate allocated $2.7 million to the new governor's office and the Division of Administration and approximately $1.1 million to the Department of Revenue when public school funding is being cut.

Formal negotiations took place on Thursday, and the session ended for the summer on Thursday night.

The bulk of the money set aside by Edwards was given by the Senate Finance Committee to higher education and hospitals for the poor and uninsured. The House did the same. Both the House and the Senate reduced the TOPS scholarship program by 30%. TOPS is a priority for both, but there simply is not enough money to fully fund the program next year.

In the House budget, public schools were $17.2 million short, and in the Senate education funding, schools were $38 million under budget for next school year. The result could be that the pay raise that Louisiana's teachers received last year will be eliminated.

WRKF Public Radio's Wallis Watkins says the $258 million of additional revenue had almost $25 million taken out of it when it was discovered that "the House had spent the money that was already spent in the regular session in House Bill 1. This was savings related to Medicaid expansion. So, we've decreased our revenue by that amount," said Senate Finance Chairperson Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte).

Senate Education Committee Vice Chair John Milkovich (D-Shreveport) said:

"We're spending over $10,000 per child per year, which is higher than every other southern state other than Virginia. There is a school of thought that quality of education does not always exactly correlate to money spent."

During this second special session of the legislature, not only have lawmakers not finalized a budget plan for next year, but they have also not settled tax measures for the state.

Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Scott Richard declared that there was no other way to say it — the budget cut was going to affect the neediest young ones statewide.

Senate leaders, however, still have some cards up their sleeves, says KSLA-TV's Kevin Frey. They have an idea that would raise more revenue next year. If it works, LaFleur says increasing funding for public education is at the top of the priority list.

The plan involves tweaking HB 50, which reduces the individual income tax deduction for net capital gains, to include an amendment that would restrict what itemized deductions individuals can claim on their personal income tax. It would disallow claiming state income tax and state and local sales tax, affecting mostly upper-income earners.

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