If you have been awake for any period of time over the last few months, then undoubtedly you know that Louisiana is in the middle of a financial crisis. Newly elected democrat, Governor John Bel Edwards, and the republican led House of Representatives, stand on opposite sides of the issue when it comes to the best approach to solving the issue. The Governor asserts that it will take a combination of budget reductions and new revenue to balance the budget, while the House stands firm in its belief that government just needs to trim the fat. I believe that the House will eventually acknowledge that it will take both, but for the time being will use this opportunity to make the budget as lean as possible. On Thursday, February 25th, the full House approved the passage of a temporary 1 cent tax expiring in 18 months in what appeared to be a showing of a willingness to work with the Governor. Then, without surprise, Representative Cameron Henry introduced House Bill 122 which proposes an additional $65 million dollars in budget cuts beyond the $30 million that Governor Edwards had indicated he was willing to cut without resistance. This bill passed, as well, and both were sent to the Senate for consideration. On Saturday, Feb. 27th, the Senate amended to extend the sales tax to 5 years and passed it. HB122 is currently under consideration.
Among the proposed additional cuts in HB122 is a $44 million dollar reduction to the Department of Education. Initially, Rep. Henry directed the reduction at the MFP which is the formula that determines the amount of funding delivered to school districts based on student population. After much debate, and many proposed amendments, Henry withdrew the focus on the MFP and redirected it at the Department of Education, instead. This reduction, combined with the recommended reduction made by the Governor, brings the total to $52 million in cuts to the department. This would leave just $8 million for the department to operate on until June 30th.
In the Senate Finance Committee meeting on Sunday evening, Superintendent John White testified that these reductions would cripple his department and force him to, not only lay off the entire department, but would remove all funding for state assessments, vouchers, recovery school districts and many other programs and services, including pre-k programs. We should note that, as amended, HB122 forbids the reduction from affecting the pre-k program.
The Senate Finance committee reconvenes on Monday, February 29th, and will continue its consideration of HB122. There is speculation that there may be some adjustment to the amount, but for the most part, the Department of Education will suffer a severe blow. Along with the many people across Louisiana who have opposed the education reform efforts, I support this bill. This is an opportunity for Louisiana to rebuild its Department of Education and create a valid and meaningful accountability system. Let’s hope that the Legislature agrees.