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Expand First, Fund Later

Proposed Dual-Enrollment Expansion Funded by Short-Term Federal Funds. What Happens After That?

Yesterday, we looked into the East Baton Rouge School Board's planned vote tonight to expand funding for the district's Pathways to Bright Futures dual-enrollment program. After repeated delays caused by the Board's inability to work together and with Superintendent Sito Narcisse, the Board is finally set to bring some certainty to whether or not dual-enrollment options will be expanded to high-schools for the current school year, which began last week.

While the vote to authorize nearly $3 million to expand it district-wide will provide answers for parents and teachers this year, a whole new level of uncertainty will be introduced if it passes.

One of the main points of contention in funding the expanded Pathways to Bright Futures program is the lack of clarity on how to fund it after this school year. That's because the proposed expansion for this year is funded entirely using federal COVID-19 relief funds from the ESSER Program, one-time funds that the school board can't count on to keep the program going.

The cost to expand the program for just one year is estimated at $2,845,302. According to the fiscal note provided to Board Members, just over $1 million of that cost is attributed to course materials and coursework, with ESSER funds set aside to cover that for this school year and next school year, 2023-2024.

The largest chunk of money, however, comes from adding 14 new administrative positions in the participating high-schools, called "Pathway Coordinators". The fiscal note estimates these positions will cost the school district nearly $1,750,000 per year in salaries and benefits. While administrative positions, especially for a program as expansive as Pathways to Bright Futures, would typically be considered recurring yearly expenses, the fiscal note points out that funding for these positions is only allocated for the 2022-2023 school year, again from the one-time federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

The plan for the expansion of Pathways to Bright Futures starts with the students who began 9th grade last week, with the intention that they continue to take dual-enrollment courses through their 12th grade year- earning an Associate's degree by graduation- as incoming 9th graders each year also begin participating in the program. With the rapid build-up of students participating in the program, costs are expected to explode to nearly $6 million by the time this year's 9th graders enter their 12th grade year. Yet, no proposal has yet been put forward to answer that $6 million question: If one-time federal funds are only partially funding the first 2 years of the program, how will it continue after that?

The 9th graders who would begin dual-enrollment courses this year could find themselves entering their 11th grade year with that opportunity ripped from them, if the Board doesn't identify a permanent source of funding by the 2024-2025 school year. And, given the current Board's recent performance, that seems like a pretty big gamble for the Bright Futures of Baton Rouge public school students.

Read more about the broken East Baton Rouge Parish School Board here.

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