Last week, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) shared a document with members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) showing large sums of state and federal funding that is going unspent or has been declined by schools for critical high school programming. This is funding that could be paying for students to address remediation needs where they’ve fallen behind, take courses for college credit, and receive career training that will help them find employment after graduation. The information surfaced after some school superintendents complained that they just don’t have the funding to meet higher expectations contained in a proposal to update the state’s School and District Accountability System, which rates schools based on achieved student outcomes.

The document lists seven different sources of state and federal funding that can be used to support college and career preparation in public high schools:

  • Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) “base” funding
  • Career and Technical Education weighted funding
  • Supplemental Course Allocation
  • Career Development Fund
  • TOPS Tech Early Start
  • Perkins
  • Title I Direct Student Services

The report showed that in the Supplemental Course Allocation (SCA) alone, 53% of school systems that received funding returned a portion of the dollars allocated, to the tune of $2.5 million which represents 14% of total funding allocated for FY22. This is after some of the same school system leaders advocated for increased funding in this particular allocation during the 2023 legislative session, and BESE, the legislature, and the governor agreed to an increase. According to the LDOE, funds allocated through this particular allocation support career and technical preparation, academic work required to achieve TOPS, advanced coursework not available at the school, dual enrollment, and intensive remediation for students struggling to stay on pace for graduation.

The Department reported that at least $29.5 million in FY22 Career Development Funds are being carried over into FY23, and that figure is expected to grow because 32 school systems have not yet reported their FY22 expenses. These funds can be used to cover the costs of materials, equipment, and teacher credentialing and training for career and technical education courses.

In FY22, school systems returned $374,622 in unspent federal Perkins funds, and four school systems – Jackson, Red River, Sabine, and Tensas – declined to receive fundsfor which they were eligible. Perkins dollars can be used for career and technical education courses, career exploration, and professional development for instructors.

Finally, school systems began the 2022-2023 school year with over $10.6 million in carried over/unspent Title I Direct Student Services money, which had been allocated specifically for students to gain access to academic courses, credentials, and services that are not otherwise available at their school.

How are we going to pay for the outcomes schools are being asked to help high school students achieve? It starts with spending the money already in their bank accounts. School leaders should be spending every available dollar to give students access to the programming, courses, and supports they need to meet their needs and leave high school fully prepared for the challenges of college and the workplace. That’s what the money is for. If funding is truly insufficient and school systems can demonstrate the real need for more, then BESE, the legislature, and the governor should consider addressing the need. But that’s clearly not the case now. In addition to these unspent funds, schools have $2.4 billion in federal COVID recovery funds still unspent. A breakdown by school system can be viewed here, and as this LDOE presentation to school leaders shows, the funds are extremely flexible and can be used to meet a wide range of needs.

Louisiana students deserve every opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve at high levels. The tax dollars that are provided to their schools for their benefit need to be put to good use. Let’s hope that our state education leaders, now armed with this information, ensure that it happens.