BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Senate Finance Committee approved an amendment Thursday that would reverse course on a bill threatening to gut the Department of Education.
As passed by the House, HB 122 would cut $51.7 million from the Department of Education budget.
The new Senate amendment to that bill would restore $49.5 million to the education budget, while also restoring funds to other agencies as well, including the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).
"In an effort to make sure we don't destroy agencies that need to operate and that are important to what we do on a regular basis, we tried to minimize those cuts," said Sen. Eric LaFleur, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who introduced the amendment.
Under the original bill, school vouchers would have been cut and the tests used to determine TOPS scholarships would be at risk.
"We don't have the best numbers nationwide in education, so I think it would absolutely be the dumbest thing we ever did to close the department designed to bring our population up a bit in scores," LaFleur said.
LaFleur's amendment takes advantage of $80 million in bond refunds as well as $8 million of fees and self-generated revenues identified by State Treasurer John Kennedy.
Under the best case scenario, the Senate committee's proposal would leave $83 million or less to be filled. That would occur only if the House and Senate approve all current revenue proposals on the table.
Meanwhile, if that $83 million is not filled with new revenue measures, higher education and DHH could see extensive cuts.
Of course, after the current year's budget is fixed, there is still more trouble on the horizon.
"It looks like we're getting closer to filling this year's problem and hopefully the house will send us some new revenue measures, but we need to be cognizant of the fact that we're still far away from next year's $2 billion problem," said Senate President John Alario.
The full Senate now needs to vote on the amendment before the bill is returned to the House.