The Opening Salvo!
Education Funding Hearing
A whipping for the State Department
Senate Finance Committee members met the Louisiana Department of Education leadership with a barrage of questions that threw the spokespersons into disarray. Even a musical chairs game, bringing different highly paid DOE executives to the table, brought Sen. John Donahue to conclude that the performance indicator data contained in a legal document submitted to the committee as indicators "that just donít work..junk put together to appease usĒ, and "just numbers people are filling in that donít mean anything.Ē
Sen. Mike Walsworth opened the questioning of performance indicators with a distressed appeal for an explanation of how 3rd grade ELA percentage of students reading at grade level could have dropped between 2005 and 2009. He read the DOE-generated data contained in the performance indicators of Schedule 19 that reported 90% of grade 3 students reading at grade level, and a steady down-trend to 2009ís 52%.
Acting Supt. Ollie Tyler and her staff could not reconcile those numbers with those currently being used by the DOE. Dr. George Noel suggested that BESE had changed the passing level and that was likely the reason.
Walsworth complained that it was a disservice to give legislators wrong, or meaningless, numbers when they are expected to use them in deriving spending priorities.
Sen. Mike Michot, the committee chairman, scolded the Department saying "Öif these are not good numbers then donít send them to us.Ē
Bringing a Division of Administration planning and budgeting official to the table did not improve the committees understanding on how such numbers could be used as performance indicators.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson demanded to know who was in charge when these numbers were sent to the division of administration. The answer was Paul Pastorek.
Acting Secretary Tyler, in her opening statement, presented data that presents the RSD direct run schools as 20th among all districts in funding. That conveniently divorces the RSD-NO charter schools from being included and that allows the RSD to move lower in the rank order of spending. Problem is that there is no appropriation for RSD direct run, and they are not a local education agency, the combined direct run and RSD-NO charters are a line item budgeted unit classified as an LEA. Therefore, the comparison is flawed.
RSD-NO charters are funded by funds that go beyond the MFP. Millions of federal start-up dollars and special charter school funds are devoted to RSD-NO charters. In addition, private contributions such as those from Milken, Gates and Broad foundations are not included in the MFP. The ranking of the direct run schools are of no consequence.
Sen. Walsworth concluded "It is unacceptable to give legislators wrong numbers. That is wrong, if we donít have the right numbers that keeps us from seeing what is happening to our kids. If your first numbers are not correct the numbers on the next hundred pages are suspect of not being correct either!Ē