BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top school board refused Tuesday to revise the $3.8 billion public school formula it sent to lawmakers, resisting House Republicans’ push to strip a $39 million block grant increase to school districts.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, decided instead to keep pursuing the formula it proposed for the 2019-20 school year, at the urging of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, teacher unions, school superintendents and school boards.
“I don’t think we need to do anything today,” said BESE President Gary Jones. “I think the message will go out pretty clearly.”
The formula includes $140 million in increases: $101 million for teacher and support worker pay raises and $39 million for flexible block grants to districts to spend as they’d like.
House Republicans blocked passage of the formula in committee. They’re pushing larger teacher pay raises and none of the block grant increase. The Senate is advancing the proposal sought by Edwards and the education board.
Lawmakers can reject or approve the formula, but 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. 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 the money at risk in the future.
“There’s a good chance that a compromise might be required in order to protect the teacher pay raise,” said BESE member James Garvey.
Jones said the board could revisit the formula at the end of the month, if lawmakers appear certain to keep the current proposal from passage. For now, board members stood firm on their request, after public school groups maintained their united support of the pending proposal.
“I don’t think there’s any more important gesture that BESE could make today than maintaining the current resolution,” said Acadia Parish Superintendent Scott Richard.
Education officials said pay raises drive up other costs for districts, increasing the price of health care, worker’s compensation and retirement. They said expenses have been rising for professional development, technology needs and new curricula while districts have received flat state financing for years.
Jones warned that teachers could get the equivalent of a “one-year stipend,” rather than a guaranteed annual pay raise if lawmakers stall the formula proposal and the salary hikes are financed separately.
“Are you willing to take that risk?” Jones asked the unions and associations representing school boards and superintendents.
Each one answered yes.
“I believe that we need to be together. Our school districts are as important as the individuals who work in those school districts,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators.