Cameron Henry’s HB 122 Could Bust LDOE
The Louisiana legislature is in special session in order to confront an almost $1 billion budget shortfall for 2015.
One principal concern is whether K12 education will take a severe hit. As such, HB 122 authored by Rep. Cameron Henry and introduced on February 23, 2016, was cause for consternation for including a $44 million reduction to Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funding. Though Henry’s bill initially included wording to preserve the MFP from the 2014 regular legislative session, MFP at that time was already being underfunded under the Jindal administration– which still made HB 122 a threat to 2015 MFP.
A Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) action alert email included the following details about Henry’s proposed $44 million MFP cut:
A bill that would cut $44.2 million from public education with just three months left of school was approved by the House Appropriations Committee. If the bill passes, it could mean drastic reductions, pay cuts, layoffs and early closure of school.
The bill, which came as a surprise to committee members this morning, could be heard as soon as Thursday, February 25.
HB 122 by Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) would cut $87 million from the budget, with about half of it coming from public K-12 education. …
The $44.2 million is money that then-Representative John Bel Edwards convinced lawmakers to add to the education budget last year. It was intended to help make up for the fact that the MFP has not included the usual 2.75% growth factor during much of the Jindal administration.
…The money goes toward the $600 pay raise approved for teachers in 2013, aid to special needs students, and dual enrollment costs. Schools depend on the funding to complete the school year.
Henry’s HB 122 passed the House by a vote of 98-0 on February 25, 2016, but not before it had been significantly amended to protect both MFP, period, and local education funding:
The commissioner of administration is authorized and directed to reduce out of the State General Fund (Direct) appropriation to Schedule 19D the Department of Education as contained in Act 16 of the 2015 Regular Session ($44,224,446). Provided, however, that such reduction shall not be to 19-695 Minimum Foundation Program. Provided, however, that such reduction shall not be to local educational agencies or early childhood education programs. [Emphasis added.]
So, yes, assuming that HB 122 passes the Senate (it is now with the Senate Committee of Finance), there would be a $44 million K12 cut– but the $44 million cut will now come from the general fund money that would otherwise have been allotted to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). According to the bill, it would not come from MFP, and it would not come from local education agency funding or early childhood program funding.
A complicating factor concerns how little LDOE has remaining in 2015-16 general fund money.
According to Louisiana’s 2015-16 Executive Budget (page 18), LDOE was supposed to receive $3.5 billion in general fund (direct) money allotted for “state activities” ($25.4 million); “subgrantee assistance” ($68.7 million); Recovery School District ($1.9 million); MFP ($3.4 billion); “nonpublic educational assistance” ($26.3 million), and Special School District ($8.2 million).
According to February 26, 2016, nola.com, LDOE only has $63 million remaining– so, a $44 million cut could kill LDOE:
The department (LDOE) only has $63 million in state funding left in its budget. If it had to absorb a $44 million cut, the education agency would no longer be able to fulfill some of its constitutional obligations, according to the administration. It wouldn’t be able to run preschool programs around the state or make a final round of voucher payments to private schools. Almost the entire department would have to be laid off.
The governor implied the House made the education department cut for political expediency and to get the bill out of the lower chamber. He doesn’t think the House leadership actually think that proposal will survive the budget process.
“I don’t think the people in the House expect that cut to be there when it comes back from the Senate,” Edwards said.
Note that LDOE maintains that a $44 million hit would affect funding preschool programs, but HB 122 states that the general fund cuts cannot affect early childhood education.
The complexity continues: Politics is politics, and Governor Edwards wants to pass a one-cent sales tax hike. According to nola.com, some members of the House would not have voted for a sales tax increase if they could not also advance a bill laden with budget cuts. Even then, Governor Edwards and members of the Senate are concerned that the House is trying to sunset the tax increase too soon for it to do any good– in October 2017.
I must add that after five years of former Teach for America (TFA) executive director John White at the LDOE helm, the idea that TFA-fest LDOE would go bust due to budget cuts is not at all unpleasant.
We will see what the Senate decides about HB 122 and about other efforts to wrangle with this profound budget crisis. June 30, 2016, is the deadline to formulate a solution for that $1 billion deficit in the 2015 budget.