Today at the Capitol

by Walter Pierce

Public school funding, consultant contracts and the WISE Fund highlight today's action in the Legislature.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana Senate will debate an updated $3.6 billion formula to pay for Louisiana's public schools next year, after the Senate's budget committee voted 10-1 Monday for the latest version submitted by state education leaders.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rewrote the 2014-15 school financing plan after senators objected to the inclusion of an automatic growth factor that could lock the Legislature into boosting the per-student payment by 2.75 percent annually in later years.

BESE stripped out the inflationary factor, and the resubmitted version (Senate Concurrent Resolution 55) is advancing in the Senate, getting the backing of both the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

"While no one's 100 percent satisfied, most of those involved agreed in the overall approach," BESE President Chas Roemer told the Finance Committee.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, was the lone senator to object to the proposal, saying he disagreed that students with disabilities are treated the same in the formula, without consideration to the severity of the disability.

Lawmakers can approve or reject the formula submitted by BESE, but cannot change it. If the board and lawmakers cannot agree on a new formula, the state would continue using the current financing structure to pay for public schools next year.

Schools are currently operating off an older version of the formula that was passed by lawmakers for the 2011-12 budget year.


After years of killing a bill aimed at cutting state consulting contracts, the Senate Finance Committee reversed course Monday, instead rewriting and passing the House-backed proposal.

Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard sought to force a 10 percent cut on agencies' spending on consulting and professional services contracts, and the idea (House Bill 142) was passed by the House unanimously despite opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.

Under the revamped version, most consulting and professional services contracts with a price tag topping $40,000 would need to get approval from the Legislature's joint budget committee before they could begin. If savings are generated by the committee's rejection or reworking of a contract, the savings could be directed to higher education.

Richard, I-Thibodaux, preferred his original idea, but said he was agreeing to compromise "to get this thing passed" after years of stalemate with senators.

"This will bring some transparency to the contracting process. I think we will see some savings," said Treasurer John Kennedy, who has pushed the idea for years with Richard.

The oversight provisions of the bill would expire in 2017, unless lawmakers choose to renew them. The rewritten proposal moves next to the full Senate for consideration.


A new higher education incentive fund sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal to direct money to high-demand degree and worker training programs would be created, under a bill nearing final legislative passage.

The bill (House Bill 1033) by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would set up the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, called the WISE Fund. The Senate Finance Committee agreed without objection Monday to the proposal.

Dollars for the fund would have to be allocated through the separate budget process, and Jindal proposes $40 million for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. That money is included in the House-backed version of the budget.

A council that includes higher education system leaders and the state economic development and labor secretaries would decide how to divvy up money across campuses, and the Board of Regents would make the final decision.

Each campus wouldn't be guaranteed a slice of the money. To get the dollars, schools would have to work with private businesses and get a funding match.

The bill heads next to the full Senate for consideration.