BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — The state owes local school districts $30 million because the Louisiana Supreme Court threw out this year's public school funding formula, Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.
Lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee also asked the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to draw up a new proposal for next year's 2013-14 formula because of the court decision. Lawmakers can only accept or reject the financing plans submitted by BESE; they cannot change them.
The court ruled earlier this month that Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers couldn't fund a statewide voucher program to send children to private schools through the formula for public schools. The high court also said lawmakers didn't follow the proper process to pass the formula, declaring the entire 2012-13 financing plan null and void.
White said the ruling means the state reverts to the financing formula for the 2011-12 school year. He said that changes several state funding calculations and will require $30 million more in payments to districts.
"When you reset the clock, the state owes the districts money," he said.
Of the total, White said $12 million involved paying local school districts back for a reduction in funding they took because of the vouchers.
Another $14.5 million, he said, was tied to a change this year that required local districts to pay for a portion of the funding for eight charter schools that whose costs previously had been paid entirely by the state.
Other dollars were tied to financing changes for an arts school in New Orleans, the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches and the state's school for deaf and visually impaired students.
If lawmakers want to continue the voucher program, slated to have nearly 8,000 students next year, they'll have to cover the estimated $45 million cost outside of the public school formula, as a separate item in the state's annual operating budget.
Jindal pushed the statewide voucher program as part of a sweeping education overhaul last year, much of which ended up in court disputes. The Republican governor rallied on the state Capitol steps Wednesday with voucher students, repeating his support for the program and pledging to find dollars to pay for it next year.
White said the cost for vouchers next year would largely be "a wash" because he said vouchers cost about the same as the state's share of paying for a public school student in the funding formula.
A separate education program that will let public school students take free online classes taught by private organizations and universities that was slated to begin statewide next year will instead start as a smaller, pilot program because of the court ruling, White said.
The Supreme Court said like vouchers, it is unconstitutional to pay for the "Course Choice" program through the public school financing formula.
"In the long-run, we will find a way to ensconce it in the education budgeting process of the state," White said.
He said dollars for the pilot Course Choice program next year will come from the budgets for the state education board and the education department. He didn't have an estimate for how much the pilot program will cost.
Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee sent BESE back to the drawing board, to redesign its plan for next year's school financing formula and take into account the Supreme Court ruling.
Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, committee chairman, said the decision was based on the advice of the Senate's lawyers, who said the language in the formula sent over by BESE differs from what is allowed by the court decision.
BESE President Chas Roemer responded with a letter to Appel and legislative leaders, resubmitting the same formula the board approved in March, saying the language that caused objections by Senate lawyers was "inadvertently included language from an earlier working draft" that wasn't intended for submission.