BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A $30 billion state operating budget crafted by House Republicans that began advancing Monday would spend more on public school pay raises than Gov. John Bel Edwards wants, but less on other expenses for school districts.
The budget bill for the financial year that begins July 1 would give teachers a $1,200 pay raise and an extra $600 to support workers such as cafeteria staff and custodians — rather than the $1,000 and $500 in salary hikes suggested by the Democratic governor.
But lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee spurned a $39 million block grant increase pushed by Edwards and the state education board for school districts to spend as they’d like on things such as mandated health and retirement costs and technology upgrades.
Committee Chairman Cameron Henry said increasing the pay hikes would help move teachers closer to the Southern regional average.
“My preference is to give teachers the biggest raise that we possibly can, and support workers,” said Henry, a Jefferson Parish Republican.
After nearly a decade of budget gaps, the governor and lawmakers agreed on a seven-year tax compromise last year that ended the years of instability. Now, state revenue collections are growing, and lawmakers are sifting through ideas for how to spend the cash.
The budget proposal backed without objection by the Appropriations Committee would increase state spending by $300 million in the 2019-20 financial year.
In addition to increasing the school pay raises, House lawmakers used dollars from the improved revenue forecasts to add money for parish senior centers, public colleges and health providers. They filled gaps in the TOPS college tuition program to cover eligible students and in early childhood education programs to account for lost federal financing.
Spending next year would grow on the child welfare agency, the corrections department and a new juvenile prison facility. Medicaid spending would grow, largely fueled by increased federal financing. State employees would receive another round of salary hikes, under a plan adopted last year.
Rep. Walt Leger, a New Orleans Democrat, unsuccessfully sought to rewrite the budget to more closely match the version sought by Edwards, including the flexible block grant for public schools. The committee voted 17-3 against the idea.
Edwards said districts need dollars for more than just pay increases.
“It would be a hollow victory for a teacher to get a raise on the one hand and a layoff notice on the other,” he said.
Additional dollars sought by early childhood education advocates to help more children from birth to 3 years old also weren’t included in the budget bill. But lawmakers are proposing new dollars for early learning assistance from separate gambling measures being considered by the House and Senate.
The full House is scheduled to debate the budget Thursday.
Combined with other budget bills, total spending across state, legislative and judicial agencies next year would top $34 billion.
While they boosted spending in the general operating budget, lawmakers on the committee stripped increases that had been proposed for legislative and judicial agencies before sending those budget bills to the House floor.
Legislative agencies would get a largely flat $96 million budget next year, and the Louisiana Supreme Court and the judiciary would get a standstill $173 million budget . Both the Legislature and judiciary are sitting on surpluses.