If there was a theme to “Budget Day” in the Louisiana House, it could be summed up by Thursday’s oft-heard refrain, “If we don’t do it, the Senate’s going to do it.”
There wasn’t a lot House members could do to alter the allocations, until they got to the Department of Education section. Because House Appropriations had forwarded the budget bill, HB 1, to the full House before the Senate Education Committee rejected the MFP, House members now had $70-million to play with.
“The money is in the budget right now, and there is no MFP,” Amite Representative John Bel Edwards told the body.
Play, they did. Legislators can’t usually decide how education dollars are spent, since BESE controls the MFP. Lawmakers are usually restricted to simply giving a yes or no vote to the entire formula. But on Thursday, the House took the $70-million and gave it to the public school districts.
“Fifty percent of it goes for teacher pay raises, and 50-percent of it goes for general purposes,” explained House Appropriations chairman Jim Fannin.
As long as the House was able to influence education spending, they voted to cap the per-pupil amount for vouchers at $5311. They also added an amendment directing the Department of Education to take public bids for next spring’s student achievement tests, instead of blindly going with the PARCC Assessments.
“We haven’t had any public discussion about the cost of this contract, compared to the other tests that are out there,” Lake Charles Representative Brett Geymann explained.
After more than six hours of combing through the $26-billion spending plan, adding a bit here, and taking away a bit there, it was time for the final vote on HB 1.
“65 yeas and 34 nays. The bill is finally passed,” Said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, punctuating the accomplishment with the crack of the gavel.