Why do Louisiana’s student counts keep coming up so woefully short, requiring the state to come up with more money for K-12 education each spring?
House Appropriations chairman Jim Fannin led the effort to find out why Louisiana’s mid-year MFP shortfall had grown from $18-million in 2008 to $56-million in 2014.
“When you have an increase in need in the MFP and you have a decrease in your revenue, it creates a train wreck,” Fannin told the Legislative Audit Advisory Council Thursday, as they received a report on a legislatively requested audit of the student count problem.
Michael Boutte, who led the investigation for the Legislative Auditor’s Office, says the discrepancy is due to the MFP—the state’s public school funding formula—starts each year from a student count that’s known to be out of date.
“The prior year’s February 1 student count serves as the basis for the initial MFP budget. And that figure has historically shown to be the lowest measure of student enrollment,” Boutte stated.
Louisiana’s Department of Education counts the kids each October, and again in February. State Education Superintendent John White admits the October numbers for the current school year are more accurate than those from the previous February, but says that’s not the data the Jindal administration asks for when starting budget preparations each January.
“That’s the administration’s determination,” White said, regarding the audit’s findings that the numbers being used are known to be inaccurate. “In other words, they ask us for enrollment information, then they choose to represent to the legislature the February 1 count rather than the October 1 count.”
Boutte also noted that the choice to use older, lower student counts seems to be intentional.
“This creates a situation where less money is allocated to the MFP on the front end, which allows funds to be allocated elsewhere in the executive budget,” Boutte said.
The audit also concluded the recurring MFP shortfalls have been a major contributory factor to the need for midyear budget cuts.
A solution is being proposed—to take just one student count per year, in October. The next MFP will be based on that, and midyear adjustments to the MFP would no longer be allowed.