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Quick Take: Kathy Riedlinger’s Pre-Emptive Strike Lusher Officials Exaggerate Impact of Changes to Funding Formula

Dear Lusher Parents: No, the sky is not falling.

Contrary to what you might have read on Saturday in the Uptown Messenger, Lusher is not about to be pushed off the edge of a $1.2 million fiscal cliff. Lawmakers in Baton Rouge have not conspired to punish New Orleans with a law all its own. And no, the impending funding change is not going to put Lusher at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring new faculty.

Here are the actual facts about the funding change:

1. Why is the school funding formula changing?

The school funding formula is changing as a result of Act 467 (originally S.B. 267), authored by State Senator Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) and signed into law by Governor Jindal on July 1st.

Senate Bill 267

Provides relative to charter school funding. Filed By: Sen. Dan Claitor – E-mail Abstract: Charter School Enrollment of At-Risk Pupils Present law (R.S. 17:3973(1) defines “at-risk pupil” as any pupil about whom at least one of the following is true: (1) Is eligible to participate in the federal free or reduced lunch program.

Act 467 makes changes to charter school enrollment requirements and the state’s school funding formula – the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) – to address concerns raised by some superintendents (not New Orleans) that Type 2 (BESE authorized, new/conversion) charters in their districts were serving a lower proportion of special needs students than traditional schools, but received an equal share of the district’s MFP funds.

Of course, since most of New Orleans’ public schools are Type 5 (Recovery School District takeovers) charter schools, this situation does not apply. Therefore, the law called for the creation of a committee of representatives from the RSD, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS), and special education leaders tasked with hammering out a unified funding formula for all public schools in Orleans Parish.

The agreed upon formula must be submitted to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval in March 2016 and will go into effect on July 1, 2016.

2. Why don’t New Orleans schools already have a common funding formula?

OPSB and RSD currently use different formulas to allocate MFP funds.

OPSB uses the formula used by the rest of the state, which was created to fund schools in a traditional, centralized school district. However, this funding formula doesn’t work well for a decentralized, all-charter district like the RSD. Therefore, the RSD created an innovative school funding formula that takes into account the added costs of educating students with special needs.

For example, an RSD charter currently receives nearly $22,000 more than the standard per-pupil amount for a student whose Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requires a full-time paraprofessional. On the other hand, a student whose IEP simply requires an hour of speech therapy each week receives only $1500 extra. In short, the RSD’s differentiated formula allows charters to serve any special needs child who enrolls without putting the school in the red. [Read this report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education for more details on the RSD’s funding approach.]

No one is trying to put a $1.2 million dent in Lusher's budget next year.
No one is trying to put a $1.2 million dent in Lusher’s budget next year.

3. So why is Lusher going to lose $1.2 million in funds?

This is where the misinformation comes in. First of all, no decision has been made regarding the new funding formula. The committee working on the new formula has met a few times already and is scheduled to meet several more times before the formula must be submitted to BESE in March.

Second, the committee is working to find a compromise solution that retains the equitable funding approach of the RSD without imposing painful costs on schools as a result of the change. No one is trying to put a $1.2 million hole in Lusher’s budget.

That being said, because Lusher serves a disproportionately small percentage of special needs students, it is likely that Lusher will receive less money under a formula that takes into account the added costs of providing special needs services. However, it’s safe to say that Lusher won’t see their funds cut by $1.2 million next year.

RSD's differentiated funding formula has allowed schools like Sci Academy, above, to serve students with significant disabilities.
RSD’s differentiated funding formula has allowed schools like Sci Academy, above, to serve students with significant disabilities.

4. Then why are Kathy Riedlinger and other Lusher officials saying the school is going lose a ton of money?

My assumption is that Kathy Riedlinger, et al., are making alarmist statements to get Lusher’s (influential and powerful) base of parents fired up, thereby giving Kathy added leverage as the committee decides on the new funding formula.

While it may be a clever strategy from Lusher’s standpoint, it only adds confusion to the conversation about how we’re going to fund the city’s schools. Furthermore, it makes the RSD’s differentiated funding approach, which represents a huge step forward for a city that previously left special needs students woefully underserved, into a contentious issue.

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.


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