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Lawmakers talk funding education as deadline looms to solve budget deficit

The Senate Finance Committee met Wednesday morning to discuss the future funding of state education. (Source: WAFB) The Senate Finance Committee met Wednesday morning to discuss the future funding of state education. (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA) -

Lawmakers have less than 48 hours in this second special session to solve a state budget shortfall of around $800 million.

On this second-to-last day, many of the talks turned to funding education.

Since both K-12 and higher education faced an original $119 million cut, lawmakers said on Wednesday they’ve become a priority that needs to be solved.

The Senate Finance Committee met Wednesday morning to talk budgeting for education and they said they need help from the House of Representatives.

The committee debated which section of education to fund more: TOPS Scholarships, the Minimum Foundation Program providing the formula for funding for K-12 school districts or higher education like LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.

“The shortfall in Shreveport is the one we’re particularly concerned about,” said Commissioner of the Division of Administration Jay Dardenne. “We don’t get to a level of $30-$31 million. That’s the shortfall.”

If MFP isn’t funded, mothers sitting in on the meeting said it could damage disabled children on medical waivers. They said these potential cuts have caused division among parents over their children’s needs.

“TOPS Moms have been pitted against Waiver Moms. It is horrific,” said Angela Lorio, fighting for her son John Paul’s medical waiver. “It’s gotten into an atmosphere of survival of the fittest.”

The committee proposed a supplementary budget to the full Senate floor that would fund LSU-Shreveport but higher education would still be short $7 million while K-12 would still be short $38 million and TOPS more than $45 million.

The committee is also relying on House Bill 69 to fill the gap.

“I voted for all of the sales taxes and I hate sales taxes but I had a choice: Not to vote for the sales taxes and close LSU Med School in Shreveport,” said Sen. Gregory Tarver, (D) Shreveport.

House Bill 69 would take money from the State General Fund and supply an additional more than $55 million to higher education, more than $27 million to the MFP and more than $67 million to TOPS but it needs to be approved first.

“I can’t tell you what the House will do. Only God knows that!” Tarver told KSLA.

On Wednesday at 3 p.m., both the House and Senate met. The House met for just under an hour and the Senate for a little more than half-an-hour. While the Senate voted to move HB 69 to its third and final reading, neither the bill nor the budget were approved.

Lawmakers have until midnight on Thursday to solve this nearly $800 million state budget deficit.

KSLA will be in the capitol throughout the last day of the session and will bring you the latest updates on the final votes at 5, 6 and 10 p.m.

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