Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Legislative battle line drawn over MFP growth factor

LFT President Steve Monaghan
urges the Board of Elementary
and Secondary Education to
a 2.75% "growth factor"
in public education's Minimum
Foundation Program.

By a close, six-to-five majority, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today set the stage for a showdown that will include Governor Bobby Jindal, state lawmakers, local school boards and various public education interests.

It's a fight that Jindal doesn't want, and worked hard in the background to keep from happening.

The fight will be over the 2.75% "growth factor" in public education's Minimum Foundation Program. It amounts to about $60 million and, for more than a decade, has virtually been an automatic add-on to the money that the state funnels down to local school boards every year.

Until last year, when the governor said that the state's budget woes made it impossible to provide the growth factor. BESE members swallowed hard and went along, but promised that this year's budget would include the increase.

But promises mean nothing unless they are kept, and one of the big background struggles in Baton Rouge has been over whether or not BESE would include the growth factor in this year's MFP request. The governor squeezed as hard as he could to keep members from voting for the growth factor.

At a hearing this morning, local superintendents made the case that rising costs for retirement, health insurance and accountability mandates just can't be met without an increase in state funds. LFT President Steve Monaghan joined them in urging BESE to include the growth factor in the MFP request.

Today's vote settled BESE's position, but that's not the end of the story.

The legislature has to approve BESE's funding request, and that means there will be a fight over the $60 million in a year when most state agencies are facing big cuts. The big questions now concern just how bloody that fight will become in the legislature, and what retribution Jindal will take against BESE members who voted against his wishes.

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