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Hear the Echoes #25 - Friday, August 12, 2011

Hear the Echoes N0. 25



Wanted a Fresh View

Of Spending Priorities




A new report from the U.S. Government has been issued.  It examines how the federal and state governments spend tax revenues.


The 2009 U.S. Census Report on Federal, State and Local Finances reveals that only 12 of the states in the nation spend a smaller proportion of total state expenditures on education than does Louisiana.


The federal average of spending on education is 36.5%, while in Louisiana the percentage of total expense ($27,649,319), devoted to education, was $9,239,286 or 33.4%.


Alabama expends 45.3% of its total state spending on education, Arkansas 44.8%, Georgia 46.1%, Kentucky 38.5%, North Carolina 42.6%, Texas 45.2%and Tennessee 34.6%.


Gov. Jindal has forced public education to mark time in spending during his entire administration, all the while pushing added costs down to local school boards.


His administrative claims of increases fail to note that the actual increases have been forced by a constitutional requirement that added students bring added appropriations.  The claim also fails to present the fact of extra funding provided to the state-run Recovery School District, a pilot voucher, and a pilot tax credit program.


Nationwide only 13 states saw smaller changes in the percent of total expenditures devoted to education.  Louisiana devoted only 1.7% more while the nation average change was a 3.7% increase in the proportion spent on education.  Louisianaís growth in education spending trailed 36 other states.


Even this evidence of low priority setting does not tell the whole story of the current administrationís reduced posture on K-12 education or university education spending either.


One would be required to drill much more deeply, however, to determine the true impact of state fiscal decisions on public classrooms in Louisiana.  The state spends more than $11 million annually on state administration of annual accountability testing. That does not include the local expense associated with testing students, only a single contract for test administration.   The state passed down to local districts the cost of transporting private and church supported school children to their schools.  The state also provides textbooks and computers to private schools as well.  Add to that some $8.5 million in vouchers, and another $14 million in tax credits (income tax write-offs for parents with children in private schools), and a host of other formerly state paid expenses that are now shoved down to local boards, and the conclusion has to be that public school funding, in Governor Jindalís administration, has been deprived of sufficient funding to meet rapidly increasing requirements of state law.


So on what basis does Governor Jindal claim that the state had to withhold the growth factor (2.75%) in the state MFP funding formula for the past three years by implying that the state canít afford it!


 In December, a national organization reported that Louisiana ranked fifth best in the nation in the growth of goods and services produced in 2009.  In fact while Louisianaís economy was growing, 39 other states had decreases in the value of their goods and services.  Yet a glance at the figures shown above reveals that many of these states found ways to increase their public school support.


An earlier report provided evidence of Governor Jindalís drive to starve local public schools.  He forced an Act through the legislature that the legislatureís own fiscal office estimated would forego the collection of income taxes amounting to more than $254 million (based on actual 2009 tax returns). 


The governor judged that local school districts should lay off hundreds of teachers and limit the number of Pre-K enrollments in the vaunted LA4 program to just  14,000 of the stateís  56,000 low income  children so that he could divert more than a quarter of a million dollars to private school tuition.


With the amount of reported growth in the stateís goods and services, it becomes clear that Gov. Jindalís priority to favor spending education dollars away from local school systems is based less on lack of funding and more on his desire to direct tax dollars to private destinations. 


His cozy relationship to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Reason Foundation, and the American Federation for Children signals an ideological stance that is not in the best interests of locally led and locally built public schools which enhance neighborhoods and communities.


One thing is certain in this election year, change is rampant and the future is uncertain.  Recent opinion surveys of Louisiana voters reveal that 44% of surveyed voters believe Governor Jindal is either not so good or poor at doing his job.  More than half of this negative rating judges his job performance as being poor.  Only 35% say they will definitely vote to reelect Governor Jindal.


At the end of three years of controlling how the state spends its revenues, 68.7% of voters said they do not think state tax dollars are being spent wisely.  An even greater percentage (85.5%) strongly endorse the TOPS scholarship commitment to high school graduates and only 21% say there should be a limit the TOPS program to needy children.


More than 56% of the surveyed voters think Louisiana is headed in the wrong direction.  While clearly the Louisiana public schools are among the larger recipients of state appropriations there is a charge that school leaders must do more with less.


The U.S. Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics for 2008 (the most recent) reveals that of the $6.8 spent on elementary and secondary education in Louisiana, $167 million was spent on general administration and $367.5 million was spent on school administration.  The remainder was spent on food services, transportation, operations and maintenance, and student/instructional staff.  Louisiana ranked 28th among the 50 states in administrative cost; and 26th in spending on instruction.  Louisiana is ranked 21st in spending for student food service, and 24th in transportation expense.


Costs have not been standing still over the past three years.  Fleet fuel for school buses has risen dramatically, health insurance alone rose about 7% over the past three years, and retirement contributions have risen from 15% to over 23%, draining school budgets.  It has taken three years to force schools to reduce their instructional expenditures.  Prior to this year schools tightened their belts on administration, maintenance and operations, and other important non-instructional costs.  But now, because of how tax collections are being diverted away from local control, schools are having  to resort to classroom cuts to meet ever increasing expenses.


Does that reflect what the public means when it voices support for its public schools? 


Does Governor Jindalís priority for public education meet with public expectations?


Is this what Governor Jindal meant when he promised change in Louisiana public education?


Don Whittinghill






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