House GOP revives stalled $3.8B Louisiana school formula
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — House Republicans on Thursday started advancing a $3.8 billion Louisiana public school formula that would give pay raises to teachers and increase block grants to districts, after critics said they were playing politics and putting the raises at risk by stalling it.
A dispute over including $39 million in flexible dollars for districts has simmered throughout the legislative session. House Republicans backed the teacher raises, but objected to the block grants, questioning if Louisiana could afford the spending.
But those GOP lawmakers faced election-year pressure from education leaders, Senate members and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards to end their blockade of the proposal. Edwards and school officials held a rally Wednesday pushing for passage.
House Education Committee Republicans who previously stalled the formula voted for it Thursday without objection. It heads next to the House budget committee for further debate. That hearing likely will determine its fate.
“This is an opportunity to show the people of this state that we are capable of good things,” said Rep. Gary Carter, a New Orleans Democrat.
Whether House GOP leaders agree to the legislation backed by a near-unanimous Senate, the Democratic governor and the state education board won’t be decided until the final days of a session that must end June 6.
The formula includes $140 million in increases: a $1,000 teacher pay raise, $500 raise for school support workers and the $39 million for districts.
“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,” Edwards said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.
Even as they agreed to move the proposal, House Republicans on the committee defended their previous decisions, stressing that they never opposed the pay raises — just the block grant spending boost.
“We’ve been 100% supportive” of pay raises, said Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge Republican.
Rather than mirror the school formula proposal, the House budget version — crafted by the chamber’s GOP leaders — contained about $120 million in K-12 spending increases: a $1,200 teacher pay raise, a $600 support worker raise and no block grant boost.
The Senate version matches the formula, which was crafted by Louisiana’s state education board.
Lawmakers can reject or approve the formula submitted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, but they cannot change it. House Republicans wanted the board to send a new formula. The board refused.
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.
That means the teacher and support worker pay raises would have to be funded separately in the budget, and wouldn’t become part of the permanent, annual formula. That could put state financing for the raises at risk in the future, making them more of a one-time stipend.
Senate Education Chairman Dan “Blade” Morrish, a Jennings Republican, urged House lawmakers to back the formula as is, saying teachers should be assured the pay hike is permanent.
“Is it enough? Absolutely not. Is it a start? Absolutely yes,” Morrish said.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 3: www.legis.la.gov
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