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Budget Plan Would Restore School Funds in Louisiana

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Gov. Edwin W. Edwards of Louisiana proposed last week that state funding for public schools be increased to $1.29 billion next year, approximately $125 million more than the amount originally earmarked for the current fiscal year.

But, according to state education-department officials, a substantial proportion of the increase would be used to restore funds that were cut last year as a result of a revenue shortfall prompted by the state's ailing oil-based economy.

Speaking before the state legislature at the start of its 1987 session, the Governor, who is facing re-election this year, proposed that the total fiscal 1988 budget increase to $3.95 billion, up from $3.77 billion in the current fiscal year.

In his State of the State Message, the Governor asked lawmakers, all of whom are facing re-election, to support his budget--or at least to give him great leeway to make cuts if revenues fall short of projections, as they did in 1986.

In a special session last year, the legislature gave Mr. Edwards the unprecedented authority to make a total of $275 million in cuts of his own choosing to balance the budget. They also passed a law requiring the restoration of a $46.6-million cut in the state's minimum-foundation program, which finances precollegiate education. An earlier $43-million cut in the foundation program was not restored.

Anne Stewart, the associate school superintendent for management, described the Governor's proposal as a "standstill budget'' for education.

She noted that $90 million of the projected $125 million increase would be used to restore last year's cuts in the foundation program. Another $23 million, she said, is earmarked for an insurance program that used to be handled by another department. And the final $12 million, she said, would be used to replace a reduction in federal special-education aid.

Officials in the legislature's fiscal office maintain that revenue projections in the Governor's budget plan are too optimistic. They claim that he will have to find, or cut, an additional $350 million to balance his budget.

Education officials said they doubt the legislature will make deep cuts in education in an election year. Others, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, are not as optimistic.

Last week, 4,000 union members held a rally on the Capitol steps to support full funding for the foundation program.

In his address, Mr. Edwards repeated his call of last year for an additional $200 million to raise teacher salaries. But, citing the election year, he did not ask the legislature to find new sources of revenue for his proposed new programs.

In the past, the Governor has pressed for a lottery and casino gambling to finance new projects.

The Governor is expected to release his legislative agenda by early next month. His main focus will be "to have education fully funded, to the level it was before it was cut last year,'' a spokesman said.

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