State GOP lawmakers in the House committee back pay raises for teachers, increased funding for schools

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Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, expressed his approval of the originally proposed budget presented by the Board of Education and Secondary Education on Thursday in the House Education Committee. (Madeline Meyer / LSU Manship School News Service)

By Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service 

BATON ROUGE — GOP-lawmakers in the House Education Committee on Thursday backed the governor’s $3.8 billion proposal for public school funding, including the $1,000 teacher pay raises and $500 raises for support staff, as well as the $39 million block grant.

This legislative session has been marked by a budget standoff between the Board of Education and Secondary Education, or BESE, and Republican House leaders. 

Although legislators from both sides of the aisle signaled support for giving teachers a pay raise, the main point of contention has been the education budget proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and BESE.

Each year, the board sets a budget to fund schools across the state. BESEsplan, called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, includes a proposed budget of $1,000 teacher pay raises and $500 supporting staff pay increase, and $39 million for public school funding. 

Governor Edwards, a Democrat running for re-election in the fall, has touted his plans for funding K-12 education, and last Tuesday, he increased pressure on the House after announcing plans to raise early childhood education funding by $18 million.

On Wednesday, the governor and other school officials rallied on the steps of the State Capitol for passage of their proposal.

“Teachers and support personnel in the schools give so much to our students every day, and we are now one step closer to giving them a pay raise that is long overdue and well deserved,” the governor commented in a press release on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the board’s proposal was met with opposition by the House Appropriations Committee, which advanced a $30 billion state operating budget that would have increased the pay raises to a one-time $1,200 for teachers and $600 for supporting staff. But the additional $39 million for schools was not included.

The House proposal would have meant that the pay raises would have been a one-time stipend rather than permanent. 

In a special meeting hosted by BESE in early May, following the House’s proposal, the board decided to not to make any changes, despite pressure by GOP House leaders to adjust the budget. 

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, originally opposed the board’s proposed budget under the precedent that the governor overestimated the incoming revenue for the next fiscal year. 

Henry testified before the committee on Thursday. “This instrument has been in limbo for a while now, waiting to see if the finances are going to be available to do that,” Henry told committee members, referring to the MFP formula. “We got to pay for it. Obviously, we don’t want to pass something like this and then not be able to pay for it.”

BESE president Gary Jones explained why his agency had refused to back down.

“We took the position that we felt like we sent you a good plan,” Jones said. “And if all the stakeholders are willing to take that risk that they would go back to what was last year, then we couldn’t in good conscious go against that.”

After the House committee reported BESE’s plan favorably, some attendees applauded, which is unusual for public meetings at the State Capitol.

The proposed legislation moves to the House Appropriations Committee, which will consider the bill early next week.