Thursday, February 5, 2009

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

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