Is public education facing more money woes?
State financing for Louisiana’s public schools is short $55 million of what is needed to cover all the state’s students this year, Superintendent of Education John White told lawmakers Tuesday.
White said $35 million of this year’s shortfall is tied to having higher-than-estimated student enrollment for the 2013-14 school year. The rest of it he described as a “cash-flow issue” that he said Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration could explain.
However, a statement from the governor’s chief budget adviser suggests the issue isn’t about cash flow, but instead about a disagreement between Jindal’s Division of Administration and the Department of Education about how many students are enrolled in Louisiana’s schools.
“While DOA is prepared to account for updated student enrollment projections and adjust accordingly, DOE appears to be indicating that there is a growth of more than 7,000 students after it had previously indicated a growth of more than 3,500 students,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in the statement.
“We are working with DOE to better understand the revised cost estimates,” she said.
Whatever shortfall exists in the $3.5 billion school financing formula must be closed before the fiscal year ends June 30.
The education money gap came up as the House Appropriations Committee continued its agency-by-agency review of the governor’s budget recommendations, with Tuesday focused on elementary and secondary schools.
Under questioning from lawmakers, White also told the committee that Jindal’s 2014-15 budget proposal is short $50 million of what’s needed to cover the school financing plan submitted by the state education board for next year.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said the education department needed to do a better job of providing lawmakers with accurate student counts. Fannin said the gaps that show up each year in the public school funding formula are large and leave lawmakers scrambling to fill gaps.
“We’ve got to get a real budget out, and we’ve got to do it without putting so much of a burden mid-year,” he said.
House budget analysts say the budget has been short of what was needed to pay for the school funding formula for all six years of the Jindal administration, with midyear gaps ranging from $23 million to nearly $54 million annually.
Lawmakers are required to cover the costs of the formula. They’ll debate how to fill this year’s shortfall as part of the larger, ongoing budget negotiations for the legislative session.
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