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Governor, House Republicans Dispute Education Priorities

Wallis Watkins
Governor John Bel Edwards

When it comes to approving a teacher pay raise, lawmakers appear to be on the same page. But how to fund other areas of education, that’s where Republican legislators seem to split with Governor John Bel Edwards.

Senator Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) is on the Senate Education committee.  Appel supports teacher pay raises, "but there are much more impactful issues that should have been addressed first, quite frankly, and primary with that is early childhood education," he explained. 

Left out of Governor Edwards’ budget proposal is any increased funding for early childhood education programs, which prepare kids between birth and age four for kindergarten.

"The bottom line for us is we know that quality early childhood is critical to our workforce, our families and our children," said Jessica Baghian, Louisiana’s Assistant Superintendent of Education.

She says it’s difficult for working families in Louisiana to access quality education for their young children.

According to a recent report by Louisiana's Early Childhood Care and Education Commission, just over 30% of three year olds from low income families have access to quality early childhood care in the state. For children even younger, that rate drops below 7%.

The Department of Education is asking for an additional $40 million to fund early childhood care next year. Baghian says that won’t help the thousands of families on the program’s waitlist, "but it does address those who have currently raised their hand and said ‘I need this in order to go to work or school.'”

Early childhood care isn’t the only education program whose funding is up for debate. Governor Edwards wants to spend more money on each K-12 student next year. An increase of nearly 1.5% would cost the state $39 million.

Representative Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette), head of the House Education Committee, says the state already spends the national average per student, "so we don't feel the urgency to increase that like we do our teacher pay."

Republicans in the House have presented their own budget for next fiscal year. It includes the $1,000 teacher pay raise, but not the additional bump to K-12 student funding.