By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

A third special session of the Louisiana Legislature proved to be the charm in securing more than $15 million in state funding for nonpublic schools.

The legislators on June 24 broke what had been an almost six-month stalemate by agreeing to a .45-cent sales tax, replacing the temporary one-cent sales tax that had been approved in 2016 and expired June 30. Revenue from the new tax has allowed for the funding of child nutrition services and required services for nonpublic schools.

“I was so very grateful and thankful,” a much-relieved Lynda Carville, director of Child Nutrition Services for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said. “I was truly very concerned for our students, parents, our educational system as well as my staff that we were not going to be here.

“I’m grateful for our legislators to understand that we are important to our community and they have a sense of loyalty to our students.”

However, funding for required services for nonpublic schools did take a $768,000 hit, according to Rob Tasman, director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the funding was cut from $8,357,204 to $7,589,213.

He said he does not have accurate figures on the financial impact on individual schools but his hope is it will not be too great once spread out among all participants.

Tasman said the cuts were unavoidable but said agreeing to the required services cut was necessary to save the school lunch salary supplement, which was not funded heading into the special session.

“This particular session, with all of the challenges that we faced and in many respects, the sort of imminent reality that some parties were going to be dramatically impacted by the cuts that were going to be necessary, I was really concerned about how those areas we were watching out for would be impacted,” he said. “It was clear to me that essentially we were going to have  to take a cut. It was a trade off.

“As many agencies and institutions and good causes that were taking millions and millions of dollars in cuts I think we still fared well in the end.”

Tasman said the logic behind agreeing to the required services cut to save child nutrition was that the salary supplement dramatically impacts so many individuals and parties. Carville had said that without the funding her program would likely close, and 180 employees would have lost their jobs.

Additionally, her program, which is expected to receive approximately $1.3 to $1.5 million in funding for the upcoming school year, had more than 1,400 students in the state’s free and reduced lunch program. Nearly 700 of those students are receiving three free meals a day at the school.

“If (the funding) was not received, it would clearly have impacted the students in our schools, not the least of which those that are there on the free and reduced lunch program and may only be receiving their best meal of their day in our schools,” Tasman added.

He also expressed relief that other areas in which he had funding concerns, including the Louisiana Department of Health and food stamps programs were fully funded. His concern with the LDH funding was mental services for those who have addictions as well as nursing homes and long-term care programs could be at risk.