Got $80-Million?

Dec 21, 2015

Senate Education Committee chairman Conrad Appel
Credit Sue Lincoln

The Louisiana Legislature’s education committees met jointly last week to discuss distribution from the state’s Education Excellence Fund.

“The Education Excellence Fund is a component of the Tobacco Settlement Funds, which is available to provide funds for local school districts, for state-authorized charter schools, and for state-approved non-public schools,” Erin Bendily, assistant superintendent with the state Department of Education, explained. She said $53-million is being divvied out of the fund this year.

Senate Education Chairman Conrad Appel had questions about the portion going to pre-K programs.

“The Legislature has put the highest priority –short of funding – on getting quality early childhood education in place, in Louisiana, as soon as possible, for as many children as possible, so how short are we?” Appel wanted to know

“We identified a need of $80-million,” Bendily replied.

“That’s an additional 80-million?”

“Correct.”

It just so happened that the creator of the Education Excellence Fund was in the audience – Public Service Commissioner, and former state senator, Foster Campbell.

“Thank God, we sued the tobacco companies. We got $4-billion – 4 billion!” Campbell said. “And we took it and we endowed it for education. None of it is supposed to be wasted. It goes in the classroom.”

Then Senator Appel asked Campbell, who is also part of the governor-elect’s transition team, for some help.

“Since you’re the chairman of that finance transition committee, I would appreciate if you’d find us about $80-million? We really could use it,” Appel requested. Then, laughing, he warned, “But I don’t want it to come from new taxes or oil processing fees or anything else. So you’ve got a real challenge now!”

Non-plussed, Campbell responded, “Just like I created this, I’ll create you something that’ll bring $4-billion a year -- and get rid of the state income tax! But you’ve got to divorce yourself from big oil companies.”

Campbell has long advocated a tax on oil processing.