When the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) for 2013-14, it sent a message across Louisiana that the board and the Department of Education (DOE) have little or no concern for the education of some 82,000 children with disabilities.
It’s not enough that state aid to local school districts is frozen for the fifth consecutive year, but the MFP as approved by BESE will actually cost the local districts every time a student transfers from a public school to a private school.
The action, passed by an 8-3 vote on Friday, appears on the surface to save local school districts money, but the reality is—as Gov. Bobby Jindal and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols are fond of saying—every time a student leaves a public school to accept the still as yet unconstitutional voucher funding to enter a private school, it costs the local district nearly $1,450.
Funding under the MFP is extremely complex because of a number of factors that are taken into account in the process. There are different levels of funding under several criteria, including graduation rate, performance, placement and disability.
Theoretically, the state pays districts an average of $8,537 per enrolled student, though students rarely, if ever bring that precise amount because of the variables in the formula, including the type of disability a student may have. But when a student leaves, those characteristics are not taken into account and the student takes $6,311 in funding with him or her.
On the face of it, that would mean the local districts would keep the difference of $2,226—except it doesn’t work that way. Instead, the state keeps 65 percent of that savings, or $1,447.
If 10 students leave, for example, that would mean the local school board would lose $14,470 in state funding over and above the $63,110 in funding that each of the 10 students takes out of the local system. So the local school system, which had a set amount of money coming in based on the MFP formula, is now losing money.
The Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council (LDDC) said the use of a different funding formula for traditional public schools than for school choice programs would result in funding inequities for children with disabilities.
That’s putting it mildly.
It’s enough that Jindal and State Superintendent of Education John White would flaunt a court decision, to defy a judge’s ruling that using state money designated for local school systems to fund private vouchers. But to deliberately and with no show of compassion, jerk funding away from special education students is nothing short of unconscionable.
Students with disabilities make up 12.5 percent of traditional public schools but only 8 percent of charter schools and just 3 percent of private schools. Even more significant, in most cases students with disabilities who are enrolled in school choice programs are not those with the most severe, most costly disabilities.
Consequently, more funds leave the traditional public school systems than the MFP formula indicates the local systems should have based on student enrollment. Funds removed from public schools left serving students with disabilities are either provided to the school choice program or, in the case of the scholarship, the state claims an inflated savings.
The reality is (there’s that term again), when all transactions are complete, schools serving higher percentages of students with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, tend to have less funding than expected, LDDC says.
Neither the Special Education Advisory Panel, nor the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators, nor the Superintendents’ Advisory Committee nor the Louisiana Together Educating All Children (LaTEACH) recommended or agreed with phasing in the proposed changes.
When member Lottie Beebe attempted to speak out against the proposal, BESE President Chas Roemer interrupted his daydream of running for the U.S. Senate against Mary Landrieu long enough to attempt to silence Beebe by saying, “I think you have made your point.”
“I’m not finished,” Beebe shot back, leveling a broadside at Roemer for his earlier claim that he wants to close the Department of Education.
But all that mattered little to White, eight of the 11 BESE members or to Jindal, who has closed mental hospitals in New Orleans and Mandeville, moved to privatize state hospitals in what he calls “partnerships” with private facilities, and attempted to terminate the state’s hospice program. Public backlash over the move to shut down funding for hospice caused Jindal to miraculously “find” a million dollars to continue the program.
And don’t forget his ongoing efforts to abolish the state income tax in favor of increasing sales taxes, a move that would help the wealthy while increasing the burden on the low- and middle-income residents of Louisiana.
Even though BESE approved the MFP, it must be accepted—or rejected—by the Louisiana Legislature which convenes on April 8.
Meanwhile, the administration is moving forward with its appeal of the ruling by District Judge Tim Kelley that the method of funding the state voucher program is unconstitutional. The Jindal administration has suffered four separate setbacks in the courts as it attempts to implement the far-ranging education “reform” package passed by the legislature last year.
Several legislators have expressed second thoughts at the speed with which those “reforms” were enacted, especially in light of the various court decisions.
Jindal, however, is following the game plan of the American Legislative Exchange Council to the letter and, through White, is attempting to funnel contracts to a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox Television network and the Wall Street Journal—and probably to other political allies, though White thus far has not complied with LouisianaVoice’s request for a list of DOE contracts.
If anyone still wonders about Jindal’s motives, we would remind you of Murdoch’s brash observation: “When it comes to K-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”
The question, of course, is just who defines great teaching?
As we have repeatedly said in past stories and will continue to remind our readers, it’s all about the money. Never forget that. Louisiana’s school children are merely pawns in a very expensive chess game. They are quite simply a means to an end—a very lucrative end.
If anyone still thinks Jindal and White are truly interested in the education of our children, one need only check the record and the myriad of state contracts awarded by DOE—if you can obtain the list.
The biggest mystery of all, however, is just how long are the citizens of Louisiana going to sit on the sideline and let this evil little man continue to exploit the low- and middle-income citizens of this state?
Forget about his running for president in three years; the here and now are far too important for us to remain passive while he continues to rape our state. His DNA is already smeared all over the state’s poor from his repeated past abuses.