BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top school board Tuesday backed a nearly $4 billion K-12 financing plan that would boost spending next year beyond Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget proposal, but steer only a portion of the new dollars to teacher pay raises.
The formula sought by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would increase the public schools funding formula by about $107 million in the budget year that begins July 1. The proposal’s price tag is about $41 million more than the governor included in his 2020-21 spending recommendation submitted to lawmakers.
The board’s financial committee approved the proposal without objection. Though it still requires a final vote from board members, the recommendation isn’t expected to change because all members attended Tuesday’s committee hearing. After the final board vote, the formula moves to the Louisiana Legislature for consideration.
Board members and education advocates described the proposal as a starting point for negotiations with lawmakers. They acknowledged an ongoing dispute over the state’s income forecast — combined with national worries over stock market declines, a steep drop in oil prices and the new coronavirus — could limit the dollars available for education spending increases.
“We do believe that it’s time that we push the Legislature and our governor that we should be prioritizing K-12 spending,” said Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
Nearly $27 million of the increase is required under the law, to cover student enrollment increases and changes. The remaining $80 million is what’s subject to legislative debate.
The education board proposal would bump up the spending per student by 2.75%, or $78 million. Any district or school with an average teacher salary below the more than $52,000 Southern average would have to steer half of the increased spending to teacher pay raises. Fifty of the 69 school districts, along with dozens of charter schools, would have to dedicate dollars to a pay raise, according to education department estimates.
Another $2 million increase would pay for $2,000 stipends for teachers who provide teacher mentoring services.
Edwards’ budget proposal does not include the teacher mentoring stipends — and increases spending per student by half of what the education board wants. The Democratic governor, however, is recommending that all of his proposed $39 million increase cover $500 across-the-board teacher raises, rather than only in districts where salaries are below the regional average.
While school superintendents and charter schools backed the education board proposal, education union leaders criticized both the board’s and the governor’s proposals because none include pay raises for school support workers, such as bus drivers and teachers’ aides. Tia Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators union, also said the teacher raises fall short of what’s needed to reach the regional average.
Teachers “deserve any money that can be added to their paychecks and certainly a whole lot more than what is being proposed,” Mills said.
Lawmakers can reject or approve the formula submitted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, but they cannot change it. If the education board and lawmakers don’t agree on a new financing formula, the state continues to use the formula already on the books.