Dan Juneau - March 29, 2006

A few things happened this month in the name of "MFP Reform" that, if approved by the Legislature, would have a major impact on the state budget. The Minimum Foundation Program, better known as the MFP, is the state funding formula by which the state sends money to Louisiana's 68 school districts to fund public education. Each year, the formula is devised by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and submitted to the Legislature, which can only accept or reject it. If the Legislature rejects the proposed MFP, the prior year's formula remains, with a 2.75 percent built-in inflation factor increase.

The MFP is a "per pupil" funding formula, so fewer students in public schools should result in a lower cost to the state. The cost would increase if there was an influx of new students. Simple, right? Not this year. The pre-hurricanes' MFP was $2.6 billion for approximately 701,000 students. The formula BESE submitted to the Legislature on March 15 was for $2.8 billion for a projected 49,000 fewer students. That formula includes the $104 million earmarked for teacher pay raises; but when that's taken out, the MFP is still $2.7 billion. This new formula is about $12 million more than the pre-hurricanes' formula, for thousands of fewer students. How did this happen?

At the urging of local school system officials, BESE took this opportunity to increase base education funding in Louisiana. (This actually began last November, when BESE returned $63 million to the state in the aftermath of the hurricanes, but also added $60 per student into the formula, effectively raising total education funding.)

This month, BESE upped the November increase from $60 to $100; increased the base per pupil amount; provided aid to districts damaged by the hurricanes in excess of what was recommended by an MFP task force; raised "at-risk" percentages and added one category to that designation (at-risk students are allotted additional dollars in the formula)—all of which resulted in a revised MFP formula that includes huge increases.

The Legislature will now have its chance to act on the formula. Prior to BESE's adoption of the MFP, they met with the House and Senate Education Committees and heard exactly what the Legislature would accept and not accept in the formula. BESE's proposed MFP not only ignores the legislators' requests, it comes in about $113 million above the governor's executive budget, and is certain to attract the administration's attention. If BESE wanted to send a message about funding, they certainly did so. The Legislature will now undoubtedly send a message back to BESE.

Eight of the 11 BESE members are elected to their positions. BESE's actions regarding the MFP appears to, at least in part, be a political move designed to appease school boards that are often reluctant to raise their local taxes in order to improve local school operations. The Legislature will almost certainly reject BESE's new formula—and it should. State finances are much too uncertain to fund a significant increase in the MFP at a time when tens of thousands of students have left the system.