After a rare pitch from Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana's top school board Tuesday voted to request a $1,000 pay raise for public school teachers and a $39 million increase in state aid for public schools.
The proposal, which faces a final vote on Wednesday, will be sent to the Louisiana Legislature for the two-month session that begins on April 8.
Lawmakers will be able to accept or reject the plan but cannot change it.
The package also includes a $500 pay raise for support workers, which includes school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others.
All of the increases would take effect for the 2019-20 school year. The public school spending package totals $3.85 billion.
Edwards' appearance before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education marked the first of its kind since he took office in 2016.
"I believe it is a plan we can all come behind and support," he said.
"I am extremely confident that this is going to happen," Edwards told reporters after his appearance. "Quite frankly, there is very little opposition to this in the Legislature in either party in either the House or the Senate."
House and Senate members have generally applauded the election-year drive to boost teacher pay.
However, some lawmakers and advocacy groups contend pay raises should target hard-to-fill jobs, including math and science, rather than to be issued across-the-board.
State Superintendent of Education John White voted "no" Thursday on a resolution endorsing Gov. John Bel Edwards' public schools proposal, whi…
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The boost in state aid for public schools – 1.375 percent – would be just the second such increase in the past decade. The governor said the teacher pay raise would also be the second of its kind in the 10 years amid state budget problems.
Louisiana leaders have grappled with recurring financial problems since 2009, including seven special sessions from 2016-18.
Edwards said he wants this year's teacher pay boost to be the first of three years of increases in hopes of Louisiana again reaching the regional average. Teachers are paid an average of $50,000 per year now.
The governor said that is about $2,200 below what Louisiana's peer states average, many of whom are debating teacher raises of their own this year.
"We ask an awful lot of them and quite often do not provide enough resources for them to be supported as they should be supported," he said.
Others in line for $1,000 pay raises include principals, assistant principals and school counselors.
Edwards was accompanied by First Lady Donna Edwards, a former music education teacher herself.
The only controversy at BESE focused on a bid by state Superintendent of Education John White to earmark $3 million of the $39 million increase for career and technical education and dual enrollment – high school students earning college credit. White said the $3 million amounted to a mere two percent of the nearly $140 million in increased public school spending pushed by Edwards.
He said too many students are missing out on earning industry-based credentials, which can pave the way for jobs or more training, and dual enrollment in high school because of a lack of state support.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' plan to boost teacher pay to the regional average is facing headwinds before the legislative debate even begins on April 8.
Critics said local districts need all the $39 million to address specific needs in their areas.
BESE member Doris Voitier said that, while career and technical education has shown growth in recent years, "there are multiple needs."
"This money is extremely important to be used in each school district where that particular need exists," said Voitier, who is the longtime superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District.
Opponents of White's bid to earmark the $3 million also noted that the approach pushed by Voitier was endorsed by the influential Superintendents' Advisory Council and a task force that advises BESE on public school spending.
Jim Garvey, who lives in Metairie, disagreed with Voitier and backed the move to carve out $3 million.
Garvey said that, while Louisiana rarely shows education gains of 100 percent or more, dual enrollment has risen by about 400 percent in the past four or five years amid increased funding. "Two percent is all he is asking for, to let the parents and children decide how to spend $3 million out of $140 million," he said of White.
BESE voted 6-3 against White's bid, which means all $39 million in new funding would be left to the discretion of local school districts, if the Legislature agrees.
The tally was a rare setback for the superintendent, who has held the post since 2012.
State aid for public schools is allocated through a formula called the Minimum Foundation Program.
The vote Tuesday was made by a committee of the 11-member board.
However, virtually the entire panel was on hand and final approval on Wednesday is all but certain.