By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

The Louisiana Legislature is likely headed into a third special session of 2018 with the fate of funding for nonpublic schools still hanging in the balance. At risk is $16 million in funding for child nutrition programs and required services, which was not included in an underfunded budget adopted at the conclusion of a special session June 4. Although legislators adopted the budget, an accompanying revenue-raising bill was not. Gov. John Bel Edwards vowed that the bill that was adopted would not be the budget going into the 2018-19 fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislators rejected two sales tax proposals. A one-half cent tax proposal by Rep. Walt Leger was defeated 64-40, falling six votes of the two-thirds majority 70 votes needed. A one-third cent proposal by Rep. Lance Harris fell 68-38. Any new tax would replace the temporary one-cent tax that goes off the books June 30. Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he believes the school funding would have been salvaged if the one-half cent proposal had passed. “Obviously, there was a breakdown at the very end of the session,” Tasman said. “It was a breakdown between whether they would raise revenue by one-third or one-half of a penny and they could not muster enough votes for either one. And once those votes did not come, it was clear the whole thing was going to fall apart. Legislative maneuvering created a sense of chaos as the session wound toward its midnight deadline, with some lawmakers even screaming at each other. “I was disgusted by what I saw,” Tasman said. “To have things fall apart at the very last minute of a special session when obviously there was compromise on the Senate side and at the same time still a clear majority to support the half-cent tax increase, and you had someone try to run out the clock was unbelievable.” Eliminating funding for nonpublic schools would likely result in the closing of the child nutrition program that feeds thousands of low-income students state wide. In the Diocese of Baton Rouge, more than 1,700 Catholic school students participate in the free or reduced lunch programs, with 769 of those taking advantage of a government program where they are served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also jeopardized is the funding for required services at the nonpublic schools. “That is why heading into a special session it will be critical how much revenue is generated,” said Tassman. “I really believe that our best chance of being fully funded is if the half-penny is passed.” Lynda Carville, director of the child nutrition program for the diocese, said after the session ended she is hopeful the program will be fully funded in the next special session. She also expressed her appreciation to the legislators in both chambers who understand the importance of “what we do.”

The Louisiana Legislature is likely headed into a third special session of 2018 with the fate of funding for nonpublic schools still hanging in the balance. At risk is $16 million in funding for child nutrition programs and required services, which was not included in an underfunded budget adopted at the conclusion of a special session June 4. Although legislators adopted the budget, an accompanying revenue-raising bill was not. Gov. John Bel Edwards vowed that the bill that was adopted would not be the budget going into the 2018-19 fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislators rejected two sales tax proposals. A one-half cent tax proposal by Rep. Walt Leger was defeated 64-40, falling six votes of the two-thirds majority 70 votes needed. A one-third cent proposal by Rep. Lance Harris fell 68-38. Any new tax would replace the temporary one-cent tax that goes off the books June 30. Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he believes the school funding would have been salvaged if the one-half cent proposal had passed. “Obviously, there was a breakdown at the very end of the session,” Tasman said. “It was a breakdown between whether they would raise revenue by one-third or one-half of a penny and they could not muster enough votes for either one. And once those votes did not come, it was clear the whole thing was going to fall apart. Legislative maneuvering created a sense of chaos as the session wound toward its midnight deadline, with some lawmakers even screaming at each other. “I was disgusted by what I saw,” Tasman said. “To have things fall apart at the very last minute of a special session when obviously there was compromise on the Senate side and at the same time still a clear majority to support the half-cent tax increase, and you had someone try to run out the clock was unbelievable.” Eliminating funding for nonpublic schools would likely result in the closing of the child nutrition program that feeds thousands of low-income students state wide. In the Diocese of Baton Rouge, more than 1,700 Catholic school students participate in the free or reduced lunch programs, with 769 of those taking advantage of a government program where they are served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also jeopardized is the funding for required services at the nonpublic schools. “That is why heading into a special session it will be critical how much revenue is generated,” said Tassman. “I really believe that our best chance of being fully funded is if the half-penny is passed.” Lynda Carville, director of the child nutrition program for the diocese, said after the session ended she is hopeful the program will be fully funded in the next special session. She also expressed her appreciation to the legislators in both chambers who understand the importance of “what we do.”