Webster schools to see funding increase for special education

In this year’s legislative budget, Louisiana schools will see a funding increase of about $64 million for special education students, State Superintendent John White says.

But is it enough to make it work for Webster Parish Schools?

“While the budget introduced by the governor included a $35 million increase in the MFP due to an anticipated growth in the student population, it did not include an increase in the per capita rate of funding for schools,” White said.
“BESE nevertheless passed an MFP that included not just a 1.375 percent increase in the per capita rate, but also a $5.4 million increase in high-cost services for students with disabilities…”

So is it enough to offset the costs for special education students? It may not be for Webster Parish Schools, but Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls says they are making it work.

“That 1.375 (percent increase) has already been spent,” he said. “That’s been spent for teachers as I understand it. The legislature gave us half of the 2.75, and that money is specifically earmarked for teachers. It’s enough to make it work. The MFP was really designed around equity, but it was not built around adequacy.”

In other words, the money the state has is being distributed equally, not enough to adequately fund the school systems, Rawls says.

As an example, he says he received an email Monday morning, discussing early childhood education, of which the school board will take over this year. The state was supposed to allocate $150,000, broken down into $75,000 per year, but instead of getting the full amount, they only got $42,000 for two years.

“Many of the offsets are special education training for special education students,” he said. “It’s very, very expensive. Some of the equipment you need, some of the learning tools you need, with the varying ways they learn, they require different types of instructional methods, which include different types of supplies and equipment.”

He says what’s happening with the guidelines and things the state wants them to do for the children, the expenses become burdensome enough, the school systems start to complain, saying they just can’t afford it.
“Over the past two or three years, we’ve just been bombarded with new regulations…and it’s like a circle,” he said. “The more they add the more it costs. We haven’t had an adjustment in years on that section of the MFP, so they gave us some.”

However, he says they aren’t complaining; they’re grateful for the increase, and it will be spent on special education as it was intended.

State Rep. Gene Reynolds, district 10, says BESE put the proposals in the budget and the “outside of the formula” increases passed as a line item in House Bill 1, which is the state’s budget.

“The MFP went back to what it was last year,” he said. “John Bel Edwards, he put an amendment in House Bill 1, outside the MFP to put all of those things back in there. It’s not in the MFP, but through the budget process, we got them in there.”

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