BATON ROUGE – Louisiana public schools have lost out on billions of dollars over the past decade since state policymakers stopped providing annual cost-of-living increases to local school districts. That has made it harder for districts to keep up with rising costs, and widened the funding gap between rich school districts and poor ones.

A new report by the Louisiana Budget Project looks at the state’s Minimum Foundation Program, the financing formula that distributes state dollars to local K-12 school districts. Since the annual 2.75 percent inflation adjustment was taken out of the formula in 2008, the state has increased per pupil spending just one time in the last 10 years. This has shifted more of the burden to local communities, which sometimes have a harder time making up the difference.

Had K-12 spending kept up with inflation since 2008, Louisiana would be spending an additional $700 per student today. If the state had kept funding the 2.75 percent inflation factor, per-pupil spending would be $1,233 higher today.

Instead, Louisiana is one of 25 states where state spending on K-12 education is still below pre-recession levels.

“Make no mistake, a spending freeze has the same effect as a cut,” said LBP Policy Analyst Neva Butkus, the author of the report. “While the spending freeze made sense during the depths of the recession, it’s long past time for Louisiana to start re-investing in children and teachers.”  

The good news is that Louisiana’s school funding formula is better than most states at promoting equity between wealthy districts and poor ones. But when state funding is frozen, the biggest losers are low-income districts, which end up falling farther behind wealthier areas with higher property values.

“Unfortunately, the poorest school districts, which already have a hard time contributing local money toward education, are the ones who are hurt hardest when per pupil spending remains stagnant,” Butkus said.