Louisiana budget deal near as school plan clears key hurdle

Education
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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana budget deal seemed within reach after a $3.8 billion public school formula won passage from a key committee packed with House Republicans who previously opposed the spending plan.

The K-12 financing formula would give pay raises to teachers and school support workers, while also increasing discretionary spending to school districts.

House Republicans previously blocked the $39 million increase in districts’ flexible block grant money. But the Senate, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state education board back the spending boost.

Amid election-year pressure from school leaders and their own colleagues, the House Appropriations Committee agreed Sunday to advance the proposal to the full House as the legislative session reaches its final days. No one on the committee objected.

Edwards, a Democrat, praised the move, saying on Twitter: “We’re so close to giving our teachers & support staff much deserved, long overdue raises and giving our school systems a $39 million boost for classroom costs.”

The legislative session must end Thursday.

The formula would raise spending on public schools by $140 million in the financial year that begins July 1. Teachers and other certificated personnel would get a $1,000 pay raise, support workers would see their salaries grow by $500 and districts would get the extra $39 million because the per-student allocation would grow from $3,961 to $4,015.

House Republicans backed the teacher raises, but objected to the block grant increases, questioning if Louisiana could afford the spending. The House budget version — crafted by the chamber’s GOP leaders — contained a $1,200 teacher pay raise, a $600 support worker raise, but no block grant boost.

The Senate advanced a budget that matched the school formula, seeking to force the House GOP to give in.

Even as they agreed to move the school financing plan, Republicans on the Appropriations Committee questioned the money senators used in next year’s budget to cover the $39 million for districts and other add-ons.

Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, a Metairie Republican, said the Senate scraped together at least $23 million, possibly more, in financing sources that won’t be available in later years and will have to be replaced. He noted that once spending increases are locked into the K-12 formula, they can’t be cut.

“We’re going to have to pay for this maneuver next year,” said Rep. Tony Bacala, a Prairieville Republican.

Edwards and senators said the House Republicans were putting the raises at risk by stalling the financing formula.

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.

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