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Louisiana Senate passes education funding

By Hunter Lovell
LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — The Senate voted 37-1 Wednesday to approve Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to provide a $39 million increase for public schools, setting up a fight with House Republicans who question if the state can afford it.

The K-12 funding formula proposed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, includes pay raises of $1,000 for teachers and $500 for support staff.

A resolution for the school funding bill was proposed by Sen. Dan Morrish, R-Jennings.

“Teachers don’t necessarily teach for a paycheck,” Morrish said. “They teach from their heart.”

The debate over teacher pay raises and K-12 funding has carried through this legislative session. For the governor, who is up for re-election, the success or failure of the funding plan is linked to his campaign promises to provide more support for educators and schools.

Republican House leaders have expressed doubts about whether the state can afford both the teacher pay raises and the $39 million block grant for public schools.

The House last week passed a $30 billion budget proposal, without the $39 million, in a 100-1 vote.

That proposal, sponsored by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, included $1,200 teacher pay raises and $600 for support staff, but none of the increase for the schools sought by the governor. Henry is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

BESE has not backed down, however, and seems willing to place teacher pay raises at stake to get the additional school funding. The board’s overall funding plan includes the pay raises, and the raises would become a permanent part of the teachers’ base salaries if the money is included in the plan.

The Legislature can only vote the education board’s plan up or down, meaning that the raises could just be one-time stipends if the two sides cannot come to an agreement.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, the lone senator to oppose the bill, argued that some of the money could be better used to fund early-childhood education.

“My vote is no because I want to see substantial funding for early childhood education, and I want to start it this year,” Appel said.

Appel said he would like to see as much as $86 million that backers have asked for in funding for early-childhood education. That is far above the $8.8 million spelled out in the budget.

Several senators criticized Appel’s decision to protest the bill.

“If you vote against this bill but you support the way that it’s interpreted by the House, you are not for a teacher pay raise,” said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Morrell went on to say that it was a false equivalency to say that supporters of the funding formula are against early childhood education.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said she agreed with Appel that more funding should be provided for childhood education. But she also stressed that teachers play a vital role in poverty eradication.

“In order to have prosperity as a goal, everybody in Louisiana needs to prosper,” Peterson said. “That doesn’t mean just private-sector individuals prosper.”

It is unclear if House members will push back against the Senate version of the bill.

Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday approved a bill to create an initiative to study and fund degree and certificate programs in cybersecurity to meet the growing demand for IT experts.

The House also approved a bill by Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, to require officials to disclose how they spend fees in elementary and secondary schools.