(The Center Square) — Louisiana lawmakers on Thursday approved $22.1 million in education spending from the Education Excellence Fund, a component of the Millennium Trust tied to a 1999 tobacco settlement.
State education officials on Thursday presented a list of Education Excellence Fund grants to the House Education Committee, which approved the grants with no discussion about schools’ specific plans for spending the money.
The Education Excellence Fund was established in the late 1990s with a portion of the proceeds from a large court settlement with national tobacco companies.
The annual grants are distributed by the Louisiana Department of Education through a formula that awards 85% to local public schools and charter schools based on student enrollment, and 15% to non-public schools based on enrollment.
The Education Excellence Fund initially set up savings accounts for schools, in addition to the annual allocation.
The law requires the money to be spent on instructional enhancements for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, focused on three categories: early childhood education programs for at-risk children, remedial instruction, or other educational programs approved by the legislature.
For fiscal year 2023, 525 entities were eligible for EEF grants, including 183 public schools, over 300 nonpublic schools, and five special schools, said Beth Scioneauz, deputy superintendent of LDOE’s Office of School System Financial Services.
“Our team actually reviews all of those applications to make sure that they meet … requirements as a preventative measure,” she told the committee. “We want to make sure they’re budgeting those dollars on the front end in an appropriate way.”
A total of $34.8 million in funding was available at the beginning of the fiscal year, with $14.7 million from a 2022-23 allocation, $20.1 million in carryover funds plus interest, and $76,000 in reallocations from closed schools.
In total, schools requested to spend a total of $22.1 million, or 63.5% of the available funds. A breakdown of the spending shows schools plan to spend $12.3 million on remedial instruction, $3.1 million on early childhood programs, and $6.6 million on other approved educational programs.
“A list of those (other) programs may include benchmark assessments, curriculum development and alignment programs, educational technology, family involvement, instructional supply costs, positive behavioral support programs, professional development and teacher quality,” Scioneauz said.
EEF funds initially deposited in school savings accounts have been fully depleted by 28 districts, she said, while the remaining 41 districts have a combined balance of $25.8 million.