Shifting education cost doesn’t add up

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The Louisiana Legislature would do well to look with healthy skepticism at any proposal to shift current costs of public education from the state to local school systems.

The Jindal administration is touting a plan to shift $14 million in transportation and salary costs from Baton Rouge to individual school districts. As a short-term fix it only shifts an imminent burden from one level of government to the next. That’s passing the buck, not a well-conceived solution.

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek has spoken in favor of the legislation, insisting that local systems have the money in unspent reserve accounts. But those local reserve accounts most likely have specific purposes, and bailing out Baton Rouge is probably not among them. Nor are these likely to be found among the list of goals tied to those reserve funds, wherever such funds may exist:

– Paying the cost of stipends for national certifications for teachers and counselors who have earned them.

– Paying the cost of transportation for private and parochial school students who live in their districts.

But that’s what the governor and Pastorek would have local schools do.

Right now, the state picks up some of the tab for those stipends, and individual school systems may choose to supplement salaries paid. In fact, state education officials have long championed the idea of schoolteachers ratcheting up their skill sets through such certifications, which can take a couple of years for teachers to acquire through out-of-classroom instruction and toil. Some systems have aggressively hired nationally certified teachers, and ambitious teachers have improved their skills through certification with the promise of additional pay from the state. To deny that pay now would be breaking faith with the teachers who pursued such certifications.

The state’s suggestion that local public schools pay transportation costs for private school students is likewise problematic. If the state chooses to continue to fund those costs, well, lawmakers should continue to be able to defend their positions on that, pro or con, to their constituents. But to force that burden on local school boards that did not seek that responsibility bears all the look of an unfunded state mandate. There are too many of those already.

This is a difficult time for state government. Citizens understand that the budget is diminished as the federal government cuts back funding to Louisiana.

But things are tough all over, in Louisiana’s individual parishes as well as in the capital. In tough times, state leaders should provide guidance and solutions. They should not create new sets of problems, which is what these proposals would do.

– The News-Star, Monroe, La.