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LFT President tells BESE: We need better choices for funding our schools

LFT President Steve Monaghan asks BESE to be partners in making better choices for Louisiana.

Cuts should not be the only option when school budget is debated

(Baton Rouge – October 20, 2010) As the state’s top school board begins grappling with the prospect of even more cuts to public education, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan urged board members “to see that the crisis we are in is real” and to embrace choices that strengthen communities and schools.

“We should be partners in setting priorities, and making sure that when this economic crisis ends Louisiana is positioned to enjoy prosperity,” Monaghan told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The board must present its plan for funding public education to the legislature next March.

"We will not be in that position if we fail to invest in education now and identify and fund other vital public services," Monaghan noted.

For the past two years, basic funding for public education has been frozen. At the same time, lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal have shifted costs previously borne by the state to local school boards.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek admitted that the frozen MFP has been inadequate to pay for public education in the state, saying that schools could not have stayed afloat without the $377 million in federal stimulus funds granted to the state over the past 18 months.

Pastorek said that stimulus funds, plus an anticipated $147 million from a new federal fund to save education jobs, will “allow us to survive through 2011 and 2012.” A devastating crisis looms in 2013, Pastorek said, when the federal money is all gone.

The crisis will be much worse because the state anticipates another $1.5 billion to $2 billion revenue shortfall in coming years, and must absorb a $108 million loss from last year’s budget, Pastorek said.

It doesn’t have to be that way, according to the LFT president.

“As a community, we do have choices, but we need all the information to make intelligent choices,” he said.

Monaghan urged BESE members to join with the Federation in questioning more than $7 billion in tax incentives, abatements and deductions that the state offers to businesses and individuals.

“Many of these tax breaks may serve useful purposes, but we need to know what the reported purpose of each of the more than 400 tax expenditures is and if that purpose is served. Some may be actually harming our communities,” Monaghan said. “Shouldn’t we at least have the courage to demand that government examine these tax breaks and determine whether or not the public benefits from them?

BESE Member Walter Lee, who is also superintendent of schools in DeSoto Parish, agreed with Monaghan.

“It is time to look past just what needs to be cut,” Lee said. “But the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be.”

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