The debate over next year’s budget is headed to the Senate, after the Louisiana House easily passed the bill Thursday. But K-12 education funding continues to be a sticking point.
Right now, the budget does not contain a $39 million increase to student spending— money supported by Governor John Bel Edwards and state education officials.
Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) says members of his committee - where the budget heads next - could support including some of that money, "but if there was one area to compromise, it’d be in that, not teacher pay.”
Like House Republicans, Senator LaFleur says committee members have some reservations about the $39 million - or 1.375 percent - increase, fearing it could be misspent by school districts.
“Just like we have inefficiencies here, they believe there are a lot of inefficiencies at the local level and when you give them that 1.375 [percent], it doesn’t always translate into what it should in the eyes of the members here."
Earlier this session, Representative Nancy Landry’s (R-Lafayette) Education committee objected to the increase in per-student funding, which is already near the national average.
“We feel like it’s time to prioritize some of those funds to pay our teachers what they deserve to be paid,” explained Landry.
Her committee asked the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to remove those dollars. But so far, BESE has stayed firm in their request.
If the Senate were able to free up revenue elsewhere, Landry says she and other Republican members of the House would be open to moving more money to K-12 funding, “but right now we want what we have to go to teacher pay and we want that to be the priority."
The House increased teacher pay raises to $1,200 and support staff raises to $600, slightly higher than the raises proposed by Governor Edwards. In order to make those raises permanent, the state education board would have to sign off.