Friday, February 27, 2009

Public school math students outperform those in private school

Here's a counter intuitive fact: new studies show that public schools may do a better job of teaching math than private schools. According to a ScienceDaily article,

a team of University of Illinois education professors has found that
public-school students outperform their private-school classmates on
standardized math tests, thanks to two key factors: certified math teachers, and
a modern, reform-oriented math curriculum.

The study demonstrates that while private schools have an edge in pupil/teacher ratios (normally an indicator of higher performance), other factors tilt the statistics in favor of public schools.

Two factors cited by researchers: public schools tend to hire more certified teachers, and do not rely on rote learning as much as private schools:

“Private schools are increasingly ignoring curricular trends in education, and
it shows,” Lubienski said. “They’re not using up-to-date methods, and they’re
not hiring teachers who employ up-to-date lesson plans in the classroom. When
you do that, you aren’t really taking advantage of the expertise in math
education that’s out there.”

Adding to the public school edge is accountability. Because public schools must reveal their student achievement, there is pressure to improve.

“There’s been this assumption that private schools are more effective because
they’re autonomous and don’t have all the bureaucracy that public schools have,”
Lubienski said. “But one thing this study suggests is that autonomy isn’t
necessarily a good thing for schools.”

Will the MFP stand still?

Here's a sign of things to come: members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are publicly asking what will happen to education's Minimum Foundation Program when Gov. Bobby Jindal announces his budget plans.

The MFP is a formula used to determine how much state money is distributed to local school boards.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes that BESE members are wondering what a "standstill" budget for the MFP would look like. Under normal circumstances, the MFP would grow by some $83 million even if no new budget is adopted. That's because a growth formula is built into the MFP.

But this year is not normal in any sense of the word. Watch for what comes next.

School boards fire back

Alarmed at Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek's declaration of war, school boards are hitting back.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, the president of the Louisiana School Boards Association says of Pastorek's plan, “It is a power grab in the form of a divide and conquer technique.”

That's not all. LSBA President Noel Hammatt, who is also a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, says Pastorek has Napoleanic ambitions. He also says its hypocritical of Pastorek, whose salary package approaches $400,000 per year, to advocate taking away the $800 a month allowed for school board members.

Pastorek denies any Napoleanic tendencies.

This confrontation between state and local education authorities is spreading to other states. The Associated Press reports that the Georgia state senate passed a bill allowing the governor to oust school board members in local districts deemed to be failures.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mardi Gras catch-up edition

While most of us were catching beads, the rest of the world proceeded as usual these past few days. Here are a few of the things we missed:

Writer says that charter schools are an attack on public education

In a well-sourced article, writer Sarah Knopp builds a case that the charter school movement has become a front for the privatization of public education. She quotes an article by education writer Jonathan Kozol as saying “the education industry represents the largest market opportunity” since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s....

With citations ranging from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman to AFT's own Al Shanker, she builds the case that the financiers and big thinkers behind the present-day charter movement are the same people who really want vouchers. Charters, she says, are an intermediate step because vouchers are so unpopular.

Knopp throws down the gauntlet with some big statements:

When charters do succeed, it’s because they have lots of extra money. All
schools should have access to these extra funds—especially the ones that need it

Charters choose their students, which decreases the amount of power and due
process that students and parents have. They are more likely to exclude English
language learners and special education students. They pursue a different goal
than fighting for quality education for all.

Schools will be better when teachers are paid more and the profession is
more attractive. Teachers’ unions are a fundamental part of winning this; and
the charter school movement is an attack on these unions.

It's a long article, and there's stuff about New Orleans in it, too. A bracing wake-up call after Fat Tuesday.

Monroe teachers might get back some of the money they were cheated out of

In Monroe, where Mardi Gras isn't such a big deal, the Free Press has an article that begins with this statement: "City teachers may get back half of what the school system cheated them out of last year, but that’s if the governor doesn’t make serious cuts to public education in his budget. "

Monroe Federation President Sandie Lollie told the Free Press that some teachers are owed as much as $2,400 by the board.

Creationism is costing New Orleans tourist dollars

New Orleans CityBusiness reporter Stephen Maloney writes about the money lost to the city's tourism industry because of the law with the misleading moniker "Louisiana Science Education Act."

Scientific organizations are backing away from holding conventions in the Big Easy, saying the creationism-friendly law sends a bad signal to intelligent life everywhere. What's at stake for the city? One convention, which will be held in April because it is too late to change venues, expects to bring $15.2 million to the city. They won't be back again.

Furloughs on the table for LSU faculty

Advocate reporter Jordan Blum quotes LSU Chancellor Michael Martin as saying that he may ask the legislature to approve furloughs and layoffs at the state's flagship university.

Jindal wants to reject federal stimulus funds

Governor Bobby Jindal picked the Friday before Mardi Gras to announce that he will turn down almost $100 million in federal stimulus funds. There's no better time to say something that you don't want people to hear. His announcement did not escape the attention of Times-Picayune capitol bureau chief Robert Travis Scott, who managed to find some state leaders willing to forgo the party long enough to question the governor's judgment.

On Wednesday, lawmakers got it together and called a press conference to criticize Jindal's response to President Obama's address to Congress. While most of Louisiana probably missed the governor's impression of Mr. Rogers, it didn't get past some legislators that, as Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon put it in this article, the governor is guilty "of allowing his political ambitions to dictate his response to the federal economic package."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pastorek continues anti-board campaign

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek broadened his attack on local school boards in this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell. And it looks like he's found at least one legislative ally. Rep Steve Carter of Baton Rouge told Sentell that "he plans to unveil a plan for school board changes next month."

When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

Last year, the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal handed out tax cuts that amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, partly as a result of their largess, the state is facing a budget deficit that could reach well over $1 billion.

Lawmakers' response to the crisis? Cut taxes.

As Gannett's Mike Hasten reports here, of the nine bills prefiled thus far for the session that begins in April, seven are either tax cuts or tax credits.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pastorek's gold-plated Web site

Amid all the doom-and-gloom talk of recession, cutbacks and budget deficits, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek is spending $400,000 on a new Web site, according to this article by WAFB-TV's Caroline Moses.

Never mind that the department's old Web site was perfectly serviceable, if a bit clunky. Or that other state departments, like Social Services, manage to get by with $50,000 Web sites. The highest paid superintendent in the South apparently feels that he needs the most expensive Web site in state government.

Study verifies Weingarten's take on accountability

Just a couple of days ago, EdLog reported on a Washington Post op-ed by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Her thesis was that the No Child Left Behind Act's demand for standards has been met with a state-by-state patchwork of regulations that make accurate or fair comparisons impossible.

Now a new study verifies her concern. According to the Associated Press, the Fordham Institute, in conjunction with the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association, has determined that "some schools deemed to be failing in one state would get passing grades in another under the No Child Left Behind law."

The study collected the test scores of 36 elementary and middle schools, and compared them to accountability rules in 28 states:

It found the schools failed to meet yearly progress goals in states with more
rigorous standards, such as Massachusetts. But they met yearly progress goals in
states with lower standards, such as Arizona and Wisconsin. Under No Child Left
Behind, states have a patchwork of rules that vary from state to state, the
study said.

Weingarten may have an ally in Arne Duncan, the new U.S. Secretary of Education. According to the Associated Press, Duncan said, "...the notion that we have 50 different goal posts doesn't make sense. A high school diploma needs to mean something, no matter where it's from."

The Fordham Institute study, named "The Accountability Illusion," can be read here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jindal dithers, but stimulus could save higher education

Gov. Bobby Jindal plays Hamlet, wondering whether 'tis nobler to accept nearly $4 billion in stimulus dollars or satisfy his presidential cravings - and those of his party - by rejecting a plan that could mean 50,000 jobs for the state.

Meanwhile, as Times-Picayune reporter Jan Moller notes in this story, the economic recovery package includes $584 million for a "state fiscal stabilization fund," the bulk of which must be spent on education.

That money cannot supplement K-12 education's Minimum Foundation Program because the constitutionally protected fund is already considered stable. It can, however, be spent on colleges and universities.

Since the governor has said he may have to cut higher education spending by between $212 million and $384 million, the stimulus package ought to be considered very good news for our colleges and universities.

But the Republican party is playing the hardest of ball with the recovery package, even to the point of endangering the seat of one of their newest members of Congress. GOP leaders demanded that Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of New Orleans vote against the act, even though it is wildly popular in his district. As New Orleans CityBusiness editor Greg LaRose reports, a recall petition has already been launched.

And since Jindal is slated to give the GOP response to President Obama's address on Tuesday, it appears that political maneuvering could have a lot to do with his dithering about accepting the recovery act dollars.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scientists won't meet in New Orleans

Citing last year's controversial "Louisiana Science Education Act," one of the nation's leading scientific organizations has cancelled plans to host a convention in New Orleans.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology's 2,300 members will boycott the state because of legislative efforts to bring creationism into science classrooms through a back door.

The bill's supporters feign shock that anyone would think they have a religious agenda. The act is only an effort to "expand the opportunity to teach pure science in the classroom," they say.

But the people behind the act have a history of deceptive tactics and a most unChristian attitude toward the truth about their intentions. Here is a story about how they tore a community apart.

Baton Rouge fights school takeovers

When the state took over most of the schools in New Orleans, nobody was there to complain. Most of the schools had met their growth targets that year (a fact hardly ever mentioned) and had strong community support. Then Hurricane Katrina emptied the city, and they were taken by the state with barely a whisper of objection.

Baton Rouge is different. As Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere writes here, parents and school board members are fighting back.

AFT president argues for national standards

AFT President Randi Weingarten has a good point. Each state sets its own standards under the No Child Left Behind Act, and those can vary widely. Some are much tougher than others. Louisiana's education establishment, for example, is proud that our state has some of the nation's most rigorous standards. But we put less resources into our schools than many other states.

As the AFT president puts it:

Imagine the outrage if, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to move the ball the full 10 yards for a first down during the Super Bowl while the Arizona Cardinals had to go only seven. Imagine if this scenario were sanctioned by the National Football League. Such a system would be unfair and preposterous.

But there is little outrage over the uneven patchwork of academic standards for students in our 50 states and the District of Columbia. And the federal government has tacitly accepted this situation by giving a seal of approval to states that meet the benchmarks for improved achievement established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act -- even if their standards are lower than those of other states

Monday, February 16, 2009

Momentum building for attack on teacher tenure

How fast can a bad idea flow from a right-wing think tank to a state legislature?

Not even a month ago, a bogus study claimed that Louisiana could attract and keep good teachers if we would just take away their tenure, give them merit pay and privatize their retirement system.

And it's only been a week since Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek touted that same "study" from the National Council on Teacher Quality, hinting that teacher tenure might be a part of his legislative agenda.

Now, Northwest Louisiana's largest newspaper is basing an editorial opinion on that same piece of work. And they make it sound reasonable, even generous, to nibble away at an educator's fundamental right to academic freedom.

So it is now obvious that legislation attacking tenure will be introduced in the coming session. The fight could be a bitter one. Teacher bashing has become blood sport in Baton Rouge.

What we have seen thus far of the Jindal/Pastorek agenda is not encouraging. Voucher schemes, charter schools, state takeovers - all share one crucial point with the tenure study: There is no evidence that any of them will improve education or build a better future for our children.

These items will satisfy an ideological bias against public education. They will enrich contractors and "providers." They will create more high-level, high-salaried bureaucrats. That is what passes for education reform in Baton Rouge these days.

Contrast that sad picture with the vision of a bolder, broader approach to our schools that LFT will bring to the legislature this year. It will be a good fight.

How will Jindal handle the stimulus money?

Louisiana is in line to receive some $3.8 billion from the economic stimulus package just adopted by Congress, but how will Governor Bobby Jindal handle the money? After all, Jindal has spoken against the stimulus package and is slated to give the Republican response to President Barack Obama's message to Congress next week.

As Monroe News-Star reporter Stephen Larger writes in this article, "Jindal must reconcile his national image as a small-government conservative and the possibility of an ostensibly free budget bailout courtesy of the federal government."

As a leading future contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Jindal must carefully thread the needle if he wants to accept federal money for his cash-strapped state without offending the small-government, limited-spending base of his party.

Are advanced classes a sophisticated form of segregation?

This story about the racial disparity in advanced classes takes place in Florida, but the questions it raises could just as easily be asked in Louisiana or just about any place else.

As Orlando Sentinel reporter Denise Marie Balona writes, honors courses are predominantly filled by white students. That's true even in schools that are mainly populated by African-American or Hispanic children.

The racial disparities, Balona writes, might raise red flags:

Though officials at the federal Office of Civil Rights wouldn't speculate
about whether local schools have broken any rules, some of the country's leading
scholars say it could be just a matter of time before such disparities trigger
an investigation

As one activist tells the reporter, "You're setting one group up to win potentially, and you're setting one group up to fail."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stimulus package could fend off higher education cuts

With the passage of a $787 billion economic stimulus package, the U.S. Congress approved some $3.8 billion for Louisiana, some of which could be used to offset anticipated cuts to higher education.

As reported here by The Advocate's bureau chief in Washington, Gerard Shields, Louisiana will receive $587 million in fiscal stabilization funds, money that could be spent on higher education and could plug the $300 million-plus budget hole that some have predicted for colleges and universities.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jindal wants more budget-cutting authority

Governor Bobby Jindal announced yesterday that he wants more authority to cut dedicated state budgets in times of economic distress. The governor says the state faces a $1.65 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year, and that current restrictions hamper his ability to make necessary corrections to the budget.

As things stand now, better than half of the state's budget cannot be cut. Budget items are protected either by a vote of the legislature or by amendments to the state constitution. Protected budgets include the $3 billion Minimum Foundation Program that provides state funds to local school boards.

But higher education and health care do not have similar protections. For that reason, the brunt of budget cuts must be borne by colleges, universities and the health care system.

Over the years, lawmakers and voters have protected billions of dollars worth of programs from budget cuts. Some, like public education, are worthy of protection. Many others have won protection because they are in the fiefdoms of powerful political figures.

That is why Barry Erwin of the Council for a Better Louisiana has a point when he is quoted in Jindal's press release as saying, "We cannot continue to place key areas of government like higher education and health care at the greatest risk when major cuts are necessary."

At the same time, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers will fight to preserve constitutional protection for the MFP. We have a dog in that hunt, as they say.

The constitutional amendment protecting the MFP was first proposed by the LFT during the oil bust of 1987, after Gov. Edwin Edwards cut the education budget in the mid-year. Rep. Raymond Laborde and Sen. Don Kelly handled the legislation in their respective houses, and the amendment was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

Even in the worst of times, education must be seen as the key to economic recovery and to a brighter future for our citizens. If we are going to open the Pandora's box of protected budgets, maybe the right answer is to extend protection to higher education and health care. Like K-12 education, those are essential to the fundamental well-being of our citizens.

This story was covered here by Melinda DesLatte of the Associated Press; here by Ed Anderson of the Times-Picayune and here by Michelle Millhollon of The Advocate.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jindal's plan needs flesh

Governor Bobby Jindal has released a skeletal version of an education agenda, one that could tip either well or poorly, depending on as-yet unreleased details.

It brings to mind the governor's first speech to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers in November of 2007. His soaring rhetoric earned him a standing ovation from solid union members, only to be followed by a 2008 legislative agenda that was anathema to professional educators.

The governor who spoke passionately about public education morphed into one whose legislative agenda consisted of charter schools, merit pay and vouchers to cover private and religious school tuition.

Times-Picayune Reporter Bill Barrow, in this story, stresses the governor's commitment to the expansion of charter schools, an emphasis on "value-added" standardized testing assessments (a concept dealt with in this EdLog post) and improving discipline in our schools.

No teacher will quarrel about a need for better discipline. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Those are lacking, and judgment must be reserved until the legislation is fleshed out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monaghan argues for higher education funding

LFT President Steve Monaghan's letter to the editor in today's Advocate is a stinging rebuke to those who believe it necessary to cut higher education funding in the face of a looming budget deficit (that just might be resolved by the stimulus package working its way through Washington).

Here's the money quote from the letter:

Our state failed to embrace public policies that contribute to a higher
quality of life for all citizens.

Let us move our public discourse beyond administrative nostrums to “learn
to do more with less.” That prescription has led us to ignore pressing needs for
far too long. Certainly, every tax dollar must be spent responsibly,
strategically and to build a better Louisiana. But the state must have enough of
those dollars to conduct the people’s business.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What economic crisis? Leges want more for vouchers

In spite of the fact that Louisiana faces billions of dollars in looming budget cuts, some lawmakers want to expand a New Orleans voucher scheme that didn't even spend all the money appropriated for this year.

As Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill writes here, Senator Ann Duplessis wants more money for Gov. Bobby Jindal's pet project. Voucher supporters say they want more "choices" for New Orleans parents, even though the state has already spent untold millions to provide a vast array of choices through charter schools, recovery district schools and traditional public schools in the city.

As the governor prepares his budget for the coming fiscal year, big cuts are expected in higher education, health care and myriad other public services. But we are expected to cough up even more to pay for tuition at private and religious schools.

Last year, lawmakers were arm-twisted into appropriating $10 million so that some 1,500 students could get up to $7,138 worth of tuition vouchers. Only about 640 of the 1,300 students who applied for the money wound up using the vouchers, and just a little over one-third of the money was spent.

And even though money was left on the voucher table this year, the appropriation wasn't touched when Jindal cut other state budgets by over $340 million at mid-year.

Needless to say, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers will fight the expenditure of scarce education funds on a program that benefits very few children just to satisfy an ideological bias against public education.

Swilling with the swells, Pastorek dismisses social disadvantages

According to the Louisiana School Boards Association, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek visited with Baton Rouge's upper crust at the tony City Club where, as part of the club's Distinguished Speaker Series, he derided the view that poverty plays a big role in the "failure" of public education.

His view probably played well with the martini-and-Cuban-cigar set, but is at odds with LFT's contention that schools are a reflection of their community. Early intervention, health care, jobs programs and parenting assistance should all be parts of the equation to lift entire communities out of the poverty that plagues Louisiana outside of the City Club's high brick walls.

As Pastorek's chosen expert on education reform, England's Sir Michael barber, puts it in the same article, "...rather than overcoming the social differences children bring with them when they start school, the US system – like ours in the UK – tends to reinforce them."

Senate "compromise" cuts funding for Louisiana schools

In their haste to satisfy conservative Republicans, senators cut funding for school construction from the recovery act under discussion in Washington, D.C. That could mean hundreds of millions of dollars lost to Louisiana, according to this article by Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr.

School districts struggling to recover from the ravages of hurricanes will suffer, according to the article:

Some of the money that was cut was intended to help speed the long process of
rebuilding schools along the Gulf Coast, many still storm-damaged. New Orleans
has the most to lose: It would have received at least $48 million this year
under the House-approved bill. But suburban parishes have plenty at stake as
well. Jefferson Parish, for instance, was to receive about $24 million in
construction money, while St. Tammany Parish was in line for $6.2 million.
As was reported recently in EdLog, Louisiana stood to gain a total of almost $300 million in school construction funds. Some say there is hope that construction money will be replaced in the bill when it goes to a conference committee. That conference report, however, would still have to be approved by both houses of Congress.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Teacher tenure could be under attack this year

Here's more on a recent EdLog post about a bogus study that seemed to declare Louisiana would find it easier to attract and retain teachers if we just take away their tenure, give them merit pay and privatize their retirement system.

In this story, Gannett reporter Mike Hasten makes it clear that an attack on teacher tenure could be a part of Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek's legislative agenda in the coming session. Hasten quotes Pastorek's communications director as saying "it's a possibility that there will be legislation on tenure. We're looking at exploring that, examining the pluses and minuses. We're not ruling that out."

The big lie about tenure in the NCTQ report is this:

"Louisiana's probationary period for new teachers is just three years and the
state does not require any meaningful process to evaluate cumulative
effectiveness in the classroom before teachers are awarded tenure."

The truth is that before teachers can earn tenure, they must earn certification and successfully complete a probationary period during which they are monitored and mentored. During those three years, school systems can fire teachers for any reason or for no reason.

So when Pastorek says "The finding that tenure is granted in Louisiana based on the passage of time, not on the quality of the teacher, is a fair criticism," he is being disingenuous at best.

Teacher tenure exists for very good reasons. Without it, teachers have little protection from favoritism on the part of administrators. Tenure is also a firewall that protects academic freedom, the ability to teach without fear of reprisal. It is a vital protection, and a key professional right. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers will vigorously fight any efforts to water down the state's tenure law.

Jindal relies on lobbyist for fundraising jaunt

Much has been made in the news media about Gov. Bobby Jindal's trips to out-of-state fundraisers. Those trips have fed rumors about Jindal's presidential aspirations. But until now, little has been written about how the governor gets to those out-of-state venues.

Now, thanks to blogger Charlie Buras and to Cenlamar, we know that the governor has been treated to rides in a $2,500 per hour private jet, courtesy of a well-heeled lobbyist for the gaming industry.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pastorek declares war on school boards

Speaking to an audience of businesspeople in St. Tammany Parish yesterday, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek essentially declared war on school boards in Louisiana's 70 public school systems.

At a chamber of commerce breakfast, Pastorek fleshed out some proposals he floated before his own Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last month. He ratcheted up his rhetoric, saying that the school board system is "screwed up" and that he is "determined to see school board reform take place in Louisiana."

The prongs of his attack on school boards include taking away the salaries allowed by law for school board members, imposing term limits on elected members, distancing school boards from hiring practices, and strengthening the role of local superintendents.

As Times-Picayune reporter Kia Hall Hayes writes here, Pastorek is likely to face stiff opposition from local school boards and their lobbying group, the Louisiana School Boards Association.

LSBA business director Lloyd Dressel told the reporter that his organization is polling members about possible responses. But there is no doubt he believes school boards are being singled out:

"It appears to me that this is a concerted effort to place requirements and
restrictions on school boards that are disproportionate to any other local
body," Dressel said.

State education board tells Congress: Play fair

Concluding a two-hour special meeting on Wednesday, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Board of Education agreed on a resolution asking the United States Congress to be fair when economic stimulus funds in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are handed out for school construction.

Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek told BESE members that some $800 million in education funds could be targeted to Louisiana, but that it is impossible to determine exactly what the final legislation will include.

Under versions passed by the House of Representatives and under consideration by the Senate, Louisiana could receive over a two-year period:

  • $297.7 million for school modernization, renovation and repairs
  • $227.2 million for classroom education
  • $217.4 million for early childhood education
  • $41.8 million for school improvement under Title I
  • $20.6 million for education technology
  • $1.4 million for homeless children
Most of the proposals were embraced by BESE members because they are to be distributed among the state's 70 school districts on a per-pupil basis.

Problems arose when the nearly $300 million in construction funds was discussed. Under the Senate version of the bill, the nation's poorest 100 school districts - including Orleans, Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and Caddo Parishes in Louisiana - would automatically receive 50% of the funds. All other school systems would have to compete for part of the remaining funds.

After a protracted discussion documented by Gannet reporter Mike Hasten in this article, BESE members decided to send Congress a resolution that expresses gratitude for any recovery funds the state will receive, but urging fairness in the distribution of construction money

Higher education sweating out budget announcement

Federal bailout may be available

Louisiana's colleges and universities are sweating out the days until Gov. Bobby Jindal announces his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. When the governor announced a potential $2 billion budget shortfall last December, higher education was a prime target for cuts. Higher education, Jindal said, could face reductions of between $212 million to $384 million.

The reason? Unlike K-12 schools, higher education does not have constitutional protection for its budget. That puts colleges and universities in the same board with health care: both have huge budgets that lawmakers can cut by simple majority votes during economic downturns.

As this story by Advocate reporter Jordan Blum points out, the state's flagship university, LSU, could lose 30% of its budget and up to 2,000 employees system wide.

The college systems have already been directed to reduce their budgets by a total of $55 million for the current fiscal year, the report says.

Jindal is quoted as saying that extreme higher education cuts are unlikely, but that he wants to be sure that the systems are ready if reductions are warranted.

Higher education's salvation could come from the economic stimulus package under consideration in Washington. Current plans call for Louisiana to receive $945 million for school "financial stabilization." According to this article by Gannet reporter Mike Hasten, the money would not be available to K-12 schools because the state's Minimum Foundation Program has a funding formula that automatically increases every year. Higher education, however, would be eligible for the money.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Congressman posts Louisiana's gain from recovery act

As the U.S. Senate debates the economic stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, Congressman Charlie Melancon released a list of investments that could be made in Louisana if the bill passes.

Aware of the concerns of many on the right side of the aisle, Melancon stressed his conservative credentials in releasing the list:

“Like many Louisianians, I was concerned the some of the spending in this bill appears to be for non-emergency purposes, and I worked with the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition to get some of those provisions stripped from the bill. No bill will ever be perfect, but it’s important that we take decisive action to help our economy recover, and the good in this bill far outweighs the bad. The Recovery Plan is a solid combination of targeted investments and tax relief needed to get our economy moving again, and I feel we must support it. ”

Louisana's education portion of the stimulus bill passed by the House includes:

  • Aid to high-need schools: $269 million over two years. (Title I funding, click here for district by district breakdown)
  • Education for disabled children: $217.5 million over two years. (IDEA funding, click here for district by district breakdown)
  • Schools: $383 million for modernization, renovation and repair. (Click here for district by district breakdown)
  • Educational technology: $18.5 million.
  • College loans: $427 million for Pell grants.