Friday, October 15, 2010

Deficit announcement makes budget cuts inevitable

Last week’s bombshell announcement that the state ended the previous year with a $108 million deficit is about to bring more pain to suffering state agencies. This time, the victim list could include public education’s Minimum Foundation Program.

A requirement of state law makes further budget cuts this year inevitable, according to LFT Legislative Director Alison Ocmand. The law requires any deficit from last year to be balanced by the end of this fiscal year on June 30, 2011.

Soon, the deficit will be reported to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. That meeting will trigger Governor Bobby Jindal’s authority to make one of those dreaded mid-year budget cuts.

In each of the past two years, the Jindal administration has cut the budget at mid-year. The brunt of those cuts has fallen on higher education and health care. To date, our colleges and universities have sacrificed some $270 million to the budget axe.

Higher education is already bracing for another cut. Officials say that as many as eight institutions could be closed if the direst of predictions prove true.

Thus far, K-12’s MFP has been spared from cuts. That doesn’t mean public education hasn’t been hurt, however. The failure of the legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to increase the MFP by the traditional 2.75% in each of the past two years has brought pain to local school boards. While state funding stood still, retirement and insurance costs rose significantly, along with other costs of operating schools.

On top of that, Jindal vetoed funds to pay the supplements for nationally certified educators, and cut funding for transportation of private and religious school students. Those burdens must be picked up by local school boards.

But with other budgets cut to the bone and beyond, how safe is the $3.3 billion MFP? Public education’s main funding source does have constitutional protection, but it is not completely immune from cuts.

To read the rest of this article, please click here.

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