Carlson: BESE moves beyond education and into personal financial planning

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BESE moves beyond education and into personal financial planning

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (BESE) intentions are undoubtedly noble in promulgating its new policy requiring the state’s high school seniors to file a FAFSA or sign a waiver saying they won’t in order to graduate. The reasoning: statistics show that Louisiana students leave million of dollars in college financial assistance on the table every year. Submitting a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid can provide to eligible students financial aid that ranges from Pell grants, direct loans, and lead the way to scholarships, and to TOPS awards – to name only a few opportunities for assistance. But for a variety of reasons, only about half of Louisiana high school students are submitting a FAFSA. The graduation requirement to file the FAFSA will begin with the 2018 school year, but students can opt out of the requirement with a form signed by parents. Unfortunately and while it’s clear that the intent behind the new policy is guided by the best of intentions for our state’s students, this requirement takes BESE’s power way beyond education policy and into personal financial planning. It’s one thing to try to influence that planning with education and workshops – but many will reject the notion that BESE should have the power to direct personal financial decisions. A recent Shreveport Times article on the issue cited the concerns about the new policy voiced by DeSoto schools Superintendent Cade Brumley, who said that “… this new policy could put a strain on school districts statewide.” Brumley is also chair of the Northwest Louisiana Superintendent’s Association. “Yes, Louisiana families leave unclaimed money on the table for college, but school systems are concerned about the impact of the new requirement … I have communicated to State Superintendent John White the concerns of local superintendents and I remain hopeful the final product is one that promotes college participation, doesn’t increase the workload on schools personnel, and upholds the sensitivity of family financial information as governmental intrusion into the lives of private citizens should always be minimized.” Perhaps White and BESE members could be convinced to back up and revisit this plan. Many will see this requirement as yet another government intrusion into citizens’ personal information leading to significant numbers opt-outs – thus minimizing much in the result sought by BESE. Understanding the availability of and application process for college financial assistance is an education in itself. Better that BESE and White look for ways to assist local school districts in education programs for parents and students to better equip them to successfully navigate the application process. A US News and World Report on this issue noted: “The move makes the Pelican State the first in the country to require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid … in order to receive a high school diploma.” It will be interesting to see if any other states jump in to endorse and implement such a requirement in their school systems. In the meantime, Pelican state education leaders are encouraged to reconsider this new policy.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at: martycarlson1218@ gmail.com