Capitol Recap

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The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2001 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.


Budget Pact Raises School Aid;
Performance Bonuses Funded

After a two-month standoff with Republicans, Democratic leaders finally pushed through a $98.9 billion state budget for fiscal 2003 that they say will help patch the state's fast-growing deficit.

Gov. Gray Davis

26 Democrats
14 Republicans
50 Democrats
30 Republicans
6.25 million

The Democrats agreed to drop increases in car-registration fees and cigarette taxes in exchange for tricky budget maneuvers that borrow from the fiscal 2004 budget and the state's tobacco-settlement fund.

The state has faced a $24 billion deficit in recent months, a situation Gov. Davis called "the largest fiscal challenge any state has ever faced."

In spite of a $7 billion decrease in overall spending from last year, K-12 education was spared from significant cuts.

Under the budget plan for fiscal 2003, education is slated to receive $41.6 billion, a $3.3 billion increase from fiscal 2002. The state also salvaged its Governor's Performance Awards, which had been promised to schools that made significant academic progress in 2001-02, allotting $77 million to pay the remaining balance of the $144.3 million program.

In a statement after the legislature's vote on Aug. 31, Gov. Davis praised the lawmakers, but warned that more challenges were certainly on the horizon.

"There is difficult work ahead for all of us," said the governor, who is up for re-election this year. "But, with passage of this budget, we took an important step."

The legislature adjourned for the rest of the year after the budget vote.

In other action, shortly before adjournment, the legislature passed a measure that would mandate that four members of the state school board have specific ties to the classroom. The governor would continue to appoint all 11 members, but would be required to name a teacher, a classified employee, a parent who has a child attending a public elementary school, and a member of the general public with expertise in teaching English among the appointees.

It was unclear late last week whether Gov. Davis would sign the bill.

Meanwhile, the governor last week vetoed a measure that would have allowed retired teachers with at least 15 years of teaching experience to return to the classroom without taking the state's basic- skills test.

Mr. Davis said the measure would have weakened the state's standards for teachers and might not have been in compliance with the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.

—Joetta L. Sack


School Technology Targeted
In Education Spending Plan

Although it was not exactly a boom year for education spending in Louisiana, the state managed to provide an increase of roughly 3 percent for K-12 programs.

Gov. Mike Foster

25 Democrats
14 Republicans
71 Democrats
34 Republicans

The education budget for the coming fiscal year will provide $2.69 billion in state funding, up from $2.61 billion last year.

The legislature set aside $20 million for summer school and tutoring, money aimed especially at students who fail the state's high-stakes tests in grades 4 and 8, and at those struggling with the high school exit exam.

Louisiana lawmakers also budgeted $3.8 million to continue the "distinguished educators" program, which brings some of the state's best educators into struggling schools as consultants.

After school technology funding had steadily declined the past few years—it did not receive a dime last year—the legislature ponied up $10 million for the new fiscal year, which began July 1.

The state also adopted a few new precollegiate initiatives, including a pilot program called Algebra One. Financed at $500,000, the program will allow students to receive high-quality algebra instruction online.

And the legislature appropriated $93.7 million for the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, which provides tuition aid for higher education to students from low-income families.

Louisiana is also working to provide greater educational opportunities on the other end of the education spectrum with a prekindergarten initiative subsidized by federal welfare money. The state will double the money spent on the prekindergarten program, providing a total of about $29.5 million for public schools and $6 million for private schools.

This past school year, the state for the first time issued financial awards—$10 million in all—to nearly 800 schools that met or exceeded performance targets. The legislature changed the program this year so that the awards will be made every two years.

Meanwhile, also during the 2001-02 school year, the state expanded its accountability system. Under the expanded program, each district received a numeric "district-performance score" based on the districtwide average on standardized tests.

Districts also received one of five labels, from "unsatisfactory" to "excellent," based on what the state calls a "district- responsibility index."

The index weighs several factors, including a few related to academic performance on standardized tests and one tied to the percentage of certified teachers both districtwide and in low-performing schools.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 22, Issue 2, Page 19

Published in Print: September 11, 2002, as Capitol Recap
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