Facilities Bill Part 2: Jindal Disappoints Louisiana’s Children


By: cowen | July 7, 2010

As we have previously written, our hopes for SB 584—the Louisiana Statewide School Facilities Authority—were that the Governor would sign this legislation and help resolve some of Louisiana’s school facilities issues. As we all know, our students are going to school in buildings that are literally crumbling down around them. This issue has not gone away. The Legislature has recognized three years in a row that school facilities need improvement. Unfortunately, Governor Jindal does not share their empathy. We are sorry to report that the Friday before the 4th of July weekend, Governor Jindal vetoed SB 584. The veto message is below. We have responded to each of the Governor’s statements point by point. We believe that it is clearly past time for the head of our state to realize that when he vetoes this type of legislation, he is vetoing opportunities for our children. It uncovers the Governor’s true priorities—public education and the children of our state are clearly not among them.

The Honorable Glenn Koepp
Secretary of the Senate
State Capitol
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804

Re: Senate Bill No. 584 by Senator Peterson

Dear Mr. Koepp:

Senate Bill No. 584 opens the door to future state funding of construction and renovation of local public school facilities

Yes, this bill opens the door for our state to behave like 41 other states do. This bill opens the door for our state to step up to the plate and provide some sort of funding to our locals for school construction. This bill, however, does NOT provide any state funding at the moment. In fact, it prohibits any state funding from being used for the bill. This legislation would have helped Louisiana’s school facilities move from the bottom of the barrel towards the top.

and could result in an unfunded mandate to the Department of Education to establish and staff the authority within the agency.

No, this piece of legislation does not mandate that anyone from the Department of Education staff the authority. The bill says that IF the appropriate funds are available, the authority MAY staff the authority. There are no funds available; therefore the Department of Education does not have to put any staff in place.

This would represent a fundamental shift in the planning and financing of school facilities, having traditionally been a local responsibility driven by the needs and wishes of citizens in each school district.

No, this bill would allow experts to assist local districts with the funding of their facilities. The locals would still remain in complete control of their school facilities. It is a matching program—the state puts in a certain amount of funding and the locals put in a certain amount of funding. Locals can opt “in or out” of the state authority. They do not have to participate. A member from the Louisiana School Board Association, representing all local school boards, is on the commission that governs the authority.

Funding for such projects is provided through the approval of local financing measures and discretionary monies received through the state’s Minimum Foundation Program.

No, the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) formula does not dedicate funds to capital repair or maintenance. There is NO funding for school facilities.  70% of MFP funding is required to be used for instruction purposes. 30% of the MFP is used for all other expenses, including utilities, employee and retiree benefits, and student transportation. There is NO money left over for school facilities. A real life example of this is from 2002-2003 to 2007-2008: The average cost of benefits and electricity—things districts have to pay for to keep schools open—for Louisiana school districts increased by 65%, while the MFP increased by only 27% during that same time period. School districts simply do not have enough funding left over to use for facilities.

School systems also have access to more than $244 million in qualified school construction bonds from the U.S. Treasury to finance the construction, rehabilitation, and repair of public school facilities at a lower cost of financing.

Yes, qualified school construction bonds merely provide a way for districts to borrow at a low cost.  However, in order for school districts to take advantage of these bonds, districts must have voter approval to levy additional taxes.  Many districts have had difficulty in recent years passing bond initiatives.  On the other hand, funding from a statewide school facilities authority would provide matching funds for money raised by school districts.  In other states, the promise of matching funds from the state has made it easier for districts to get voter approval to raise taxes.

Furthermore, as public entities, school districts may submit funding requests through the state’s capital outlay program. Creating a separate capital funding mechanism outside of the capital outlay system would not allow for consideration of all the needs of the state and the setting of priorities based on those needs.

No, in the 2010 capital outlay budget, $7.2 million is budgeted for local school districts or charter school foundations.  Of this, only $395,000 is listed as Priority 1.  All of the Priority 1 funding is being carried over from the 2009 capital outlay budget. As this carry-over of projects from one year to the next year shows, being included in the capital outlay budget is NO guarantee that a project will receive funding.  More importantly, however, is the fact that capital outlays are not made on the basis of greatest need.  As the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana says in its backgrounder on the process, “political considerations are also a major driving factor” in the selection of projects.  If the governor were truly interested in stretching limited state dollars as far as possible, he would welcome a process that considers the needs of all schools and prioritizes those that would keep our students warm, safe and dry – not one that subjects public schools to political wrangling.

The state currently has unmet obligations such as the unfunded accrued liability of the statewide retirement systems, the backlog of deferred maintenance on roads, and a significant backlog in deferred maintenance on state buildings.

The Governor is making the judgment that state buildings and roads are more important than school facilities that hold hundreds of thousands of children. This is a different value judgment than the majority of the state legislature holds. Their constituency is the same as Governor Jindal’s. They have to go home and face the students, teachers, parents and administrators who go to those school buildings day-in and day-out and understand that these buildings are at least as important as roads and state buildings.

The Department of Education also has limited financial and human resources to establish and provide staff support to a new entity without diverting resources from away other priority initiatives aimed at improving student achievement.

Again, this piece of legislation does not require the Department of Education to provide any funds to the authority. It would not divert resources. This bill is the first step to providing better school facilities to all children.

For these reasons, I have vetoed Senate Bill No. 584 and hereby return it to the Senate.  Please note that I have vetoed similar legislation in previous years for similar reasons.


Sincerely,

Bobby Jindal

The Governor vetoed a similar piece of legislation in 2008 when the legislature passed the bill unanimously. In 2010, the majority of the legislature voted in favor of SB 584. When will Governor Jindal start listening to the people that this legislation affects the most: the principals, teachers, students and parents? The time is NOW.

One Trackback

  1. [...] the Cowen Institute’s Nash Molpus published his second report on the facilities bill, SB 584, and announced Bobby Jindal’s decision to veto the legislation. In his first article [...]

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