A proposal to set up a new public school district in southeast Baton Rouge fell four votes short of approval Wednesday afternoon in the Louisiana House.
The vote was 66-34 in favor of the measure, which is Senate Bill 299.
However, backers need a two-thirds majority — 70 votes in the 105-member House — since the measure is a constitutional amendment.
Supporters said they plan another bid to pass the plan before the Legislature adjourns on Monday at 6 p.m.
The proposal would move 10 schools from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to a newly created school zone called the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District.
The new district would extend southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.
Backers contend the change is needed because East Baton Rouge Parish public schools have failed students and parents for years.
Opponents said another breakaway district — three others have already been carved out — would leave behind a high-poverty system marked by academic and financial problems.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and chief sponsor of the effort, said moments after the vote that another try is likely but not on Wednesday.
White said that before some last-minute switches, the tally neared 70 votes.
But state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and a leading opponent of the plan, said after the vote that she is confident critics of the proposed new district can block House approval of the ballot measure.
The House earlier passed a companion measure, Senate Bill 563, that would spell out details of the new district in state law.
It required a simple majority — 53 votes — and has won final legislative approval.
However, both bills have to pass for the new district to have a chance.
In addition, the issue would be submitted to voters on Nov. 6.
Majority support statewide and in East Baton Rouge Parish would be needed for the new district to become reality, likely on July 1, 2013.
State Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge and House sponsor of the amendment, urged House members to give voters a chance to decide the issue.
Ponti said 20-25 schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system already face major changes because of poor performance.
“The people did not have a voice in that,” Ponti said.
But Smith told the Louisiana House that the new district would create another high-poverty school system, which the state does not need.
“This is not right,” she said.
State Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central urged colleagues to back the plan.
Richardson noted that the Central and Zachary school districts were formerly part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system before they formed new, separate districts and are among the highest rated in the state.
“So you can see the benefits of a community school system,” Richardson said.
“Your support on this would be much appreciated,” he added.
State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, denounced the proposal.
“There are a lot of uncertainties with this bill,” James said.
Last week the companion bill to the amendment won approval 60-38, which meant backers were well short of the 70 needed for the amendment.
Backers decided last Thursday to delay a vote on the ballot measure in hopes to lining up more support.
The issue has mostly broken along party lines, and Republicans enjoy a 58-45 majority in the House with two independents.
That means backers need Democratic support to reach the 70-vote target.