By Madeline Meyer
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–The Senate Education Committee voted 6-1 Thursday to approve the governor’s proposal to provide a $39 million boost in K-12 education funding.
The controversial bill is moving to the Senate floor with possible review by the Senate Finance Committee. It remains unclear if Republican House leaders will endorse the bill.
Edwards–whose re-election campaign has stressed support for education, including $1,000 teacher pay raises and $500 for support workers–praised the Senate committee’s vote.
Garry Jones, the president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, spoke on behalf of the bill.
Barry Dusse, director of the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, said amendments to the governor’s overall state budget proposal would allow for the $39 million fund. Dusse said the money would come from the Department of Health and $15 million in savings from other agencies.
Teachers unions support the plans. But some teachers are concerned that the raises are not high enough.
“I have watched as the state has demanded more from our students and teachers in terms of testing, while contributing little in the way of additional resources to meet the rise in expectation,“ Belinda Davis, an LSU professor and the president of the public school advocacy group One Community, One School District, said in support of the bill.
Senate Republican leaders also signaled support for the extra $39 million. But it remains unclear if House Republicans, who question if there will be enough money for both that and the teacher pay raises, will back the initiative.
Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, was the only committee member who voted against the bill Thursday.
Appel maintained that the bill was $20 million over budget. “The whole thing could blow up,” he said, when the House Appropriations Committee meets on Monday.
But other Republicans on the committee, Sen. Bodi White of Baton Rouge and Sen. Beth Mizell of Franklinton reiterated their constituents’ support for the teacher pay raise.
At Thursday’s meeting, Senate committee members also advanced proposals to create task forces on how to curb children’s exposure to pornography and bolster student workforce training.
Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, the second highest member of the Senate, sponsored a bill that would create a statewide task force to study the effects of pornography on children. Long also has led legislative efforts to stop human trafficking in Louisiana.
“Why can’t we be the number one in the United States in protecting our children?” Long asked.
Modern technology, including apps such as Pornhub, are part of young children’s early exposure to sexual and violent content, committee members agreed.
Hypersexualization, Long said, is detrimental to children’s development and their health.
Long’s proposed task force would include members of the Senate leadership, the Attorney General’s cybercrime experts, Department of Education advisers, church leaders and a representative of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum.
Sen. Appel introduced the bill for a task force to study workforce shortages, hoping to prepare Louisiana’s students for 21st Century jobs. The idea would be “helping folks get jobs and grow prosperity,” Appel said.
The state’s commissioner of higher education, Kim Hunter Reed, spoke in favor of the task force and stressed that geography should no longer determine students’ access to training programs and job opportunities.
“We’re engaging companies and individuals across the state so that rural communities will certainly not be forgotten,” Hunter Reed said.
“The idea is to blend the K-12 with the career experience and with the higher education experience,” the commissioner said.
Appel said he was concerned about the flow of jobs and people moving to other states.
“Hopefully in years to come we can reverse that flow,” Appel said.