Finances TitleThe success of the public school system rests on many factors, and one of them is ensuring the financial health of the system.  The Cowen Institute works to understand the scope of the complex financial situation resulting from the fragmented and decentralized management of schools; securing adequate funding for schools, ensure fiscal responsibility, and ensure equitable distribution of funds.  Currently, we are researching, drafting, and advancing policy and legislative recommendations to address the inequities in funding for schools, specifically addressing local and state allocations.  The Cowen Institute also works closely with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE), the Recovery School District (RSD) and other partners to ensure both transparent and accurate financial reporting.

General information on public education financing in Louisiana

Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program Formula: Analyzing the Results

In Louisiana, the state constitution requires the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “annually develop and adopt a formula…to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools….” This formula is commonly referred to as the MFP (or Minimum Foundation Program) formula. The MFP formula includes provisions to account for factors such as: student needs, wealth inequalities, and rewards for local tax effort.

Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program Formula: Analyzing the Results examines the MFP formula from several perspectives. First, general information on funding formulas is presented. Next, the basic components and structure of the MFP formula are discussed. Then, the outcomes of the formula are analyzed based on how well the goals of the formula are achieved. Total funding is examined as well as the funding generated by different parts of the formula. This section concludes that overall the MFP is regressive; wealthier districts receive higher funding. Lastly, two studies of state funding formulas are reviewed to see how the MFP compares to other states’ formulas, both which find that Louisiana exerts very low effort, comparatively.

The State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Finances

In March 2011, the Cowen Institute released The State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Finances. In this publication, the Cowen Institute attempts to decipher the K-12 public education financial landscape in New Orleans. This paper describes the financial circumstances of public schools in New Orleans by providing a “bird’s eye” view of revenues and expenditures, and addresses the issues associated with a multi-district system of schools. As one-time federal funds are expended and philanthropic dollars are increasingly scarce, it is imperative that parents, educators, policymakers, and taxpayers understand how money is being spent to ensure the greatest return on investment.

Legislation Resolves Substantial Funding Inequities in New Orleans

During the 2010 Regular Legislative Session, the policy team worked collaboratively with the Orleans Parish School Board, the Recovery School District, the House Committee on Education and the Senate Education Committee to pass Senate Bill 240 and House Bill 420. These bills attempt to equalize funding for all public schools in New Orleans – OPSB and RSD, traditional and charter. SB 240 provides funding to cover “legacy costs” from the larger school system that existed before Hurricane Katrina. HB 420 ensures that all revenue that is collected to pay existing bond debt carried by the school board actually is used for that purpose. Together, these bills resolve many of the most substantial funding inequities that were unintentionally created by the state takeover of schools. We are pleased that we were able to have a substantial role in the passage of this legislation.

Louisiana Education Funding and the Southern Regional Average

During the 2010 Regular Legislative Session, the Cowen Institute testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee in support of SCR 20, the MFP resolution which would have increased baseline funding for schools by 2.75%.  The Cowen Institute also made a similar presentation to BESE at the August 2010 meeting.  The materials presented are available here.

Public Education in New Orleans: A Financial Analysis

In February 2009, the Cowen Institute released a paper on public school finances. [Download here]

Notably, this is the first effort to gather and analyze financial data for all of the public schools currently operating in New Orleans. The purpose of this paper is to:

  • Trace the sources of revenue that support public schools in New Orleans and to analyze how it has been allocated and spent;
  • Highlight some of the financial issues arising from the complexities faced by the various school operators and districts; and
  • Provide recommendations on how to eliminate the barriers to sound financial analysis.

This report takes a comprehensive look at publicly available financial documents for the Recovery School District (RSD), Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), and a number of individual charter schools. Our findings show that individual school operators and the two school districts in New Orleans face several financial challenges. Based on the information contained in this report, we offer a number of major recommendations including the following:

  • Increasing transparency and financial accountability for school districts and operators;
  • Changing the rules that govern how funds are shared across schools; and
  • Revising budgets to bring revenue and spending into alignment.

Additional Links and Resources

Orleans Parish School Board’s Budget Web Page

Louisiana Department of Education’s Web Page on MFP Funding

Louisiana Department of Education’s School-by-School Financial Data Tool

Please contact Matt Segraves at or 504-274-3616 for additional information.

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