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Edwards vetoes education transparency bill amid criticism

John Bel Edwards
Gov. John Bel Edwards talks about an expected $300 million-plus surplus Louisiana will have from the last budget year, while Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson listen to his remarks, on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. (Melinda Deslatte/AP)

Edwards vetoes education transparency bill amid criticism

July 12, 07:00 PM July 12, 07:01 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed an education transparency bill that critics said would have shined a light on billions of dollars flooding Louisiana schools.

House Bill 38 would have required large local school systems to participate in the Louisiana Checkbook, a searchable website allowing users to track government expenditures, funding sources, vendor contracts and economic incentives.

“Here, citizens will see a greater level of detail on how and where taxpayer dollars are being spent – down to the check level,” the website says.

Louisiana school districts will receive $3.9 billion in Minimum Foundation Program funds this fiscal year, along with hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars.

MFP is a Louisiana Department of Education program that uses an annual formula to allocate state funding. Money is provided to districts in block grants, which allows spending flexibility.

A record $6.5 billion in spending is slated for the next school year, due in part to federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Bill sponsor Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, did not include charter schools or public school governing bodies overseeing 2,500 or fewer students in the transparency measure, which Edwards questioned in his veto statement.

“It is unclear why small systems would be exempt for the fiscal transparency this bill seeks to provide for,” Edwards said, adding that putting education spending online would cost millions.

“Our local school systems simply do not have the resources or technology to comply with this unfunded mandate,” he said.

The Louisiana School Board Association was a leading opponent of the bill during the legislative process.

Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, said he was disappointed the “good-government” legislation was rejected.

“Louisiana outspends most of our neighbors per student while achieving among the lowest educational outcomes in the nation,” Erspamer said. “The first step to turning around outcomes is by showing how school districts are spending taxpayer dollars.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Louisiana spends $13,171 per pupil, while U.S. News and World Report ranked Louisiana’s K-12 public education system 46th out of 50 states.

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