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Gov. John Bel Edwards holds up four fingers to signify another four year term in office, flanked by his wife Donna Edwards, left, supporters and other family members at his election night celebration at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. He had just been called the election winner over challenger Eddie Rispone.

In his second term, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is likely to find common ground with the Republican-controlled Legislature on a new round of teacher salary hikes and boosting state aid for early childhood education, officials said.

"When you talk about teacher pay and early childhood education, those are things that both sides can agree on," said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana.

However, if Edwards renews his push for changes in charter schools, vouchers and teacher evaluations, it will spark the same kind of pushback that killed similar efforts in the first term, according to education advocates.

In addition, Louisiana's top school board is expected to be just as much at odds with the governor on key public school issues as previously, and maybe more so.

Edwards, who was narrowly re-elected on Nov. 16, announced earlier this month that a second round of pay raises for Louisiana's 51,000 teachers and more dollars for the state's youngest learners would be among the issues at the top of his 2020 agenda.

Earlier this year the governor won approval for his $1,000 teacher pay raise plan, and he has said he plans for Louisiana to reach the regional average after three increases.

The 2019 boost enjoyed wide support from Democrats and Republicans, especially since it marked the first such increase in the past decade.

Teachers are paid an average of about $51,000 per year and remain at least $1,200 below the always-moving average set for 16 states by the Southern Regional Education Board.

But the pay raise and another issue could spark arguments even where there is widespread support.

Shane Riddle, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said his group hopes to win raises that would exceed the regional average in 2020 by increasing pay up to $2,400 per year. "We would like to see it go above the SREB and have a little cushion on that moving target," Riddle said.

Donald Songy, the governor's education policy adviser, said it is too soon to tell what Edwards will recommend. "A lot of it is going to depend on the revenue forecast, which is not in," Songy noted.

A related and equally controversial topic is whether any teacher raises should be across the board, as they were this year, or targeted.

"I do think there should be some differential," said Brigitte Nieland, director of government affairs for Stand for Children.

Hard-to-fill classroom jobs, including in rural areas, and math and science teachers are often cited as among those deserving extra pay.

Inauguration day is Jan. 13. The 2020 regular legislative session begins on March 9.

Any debate on money for early childhood education is expected to focus on how big an increase makes sense, not whether one is warranted.

Earlier this year Edwards won approval for a $20 million boost.

That was well below the $86 million annual increase targeting kids from birth to age 3 recommended by an influential panel that includes First Lady Donna Edwards. Early childhood education provides an educational component to daily child care. Also, the waiting list for the Child Care Assistance Program, which aids parents while they work or attend school, keeps growing and now includes about 4,000 children.

As for the voucher program, Songy said that, while no detailed proposals have been worked out, some state tuition assistance is not doing what the program was designed to do: offering children a viable alternative to troubled public schools.

Cynthia Posey, legislative and political director for the pro-Edwards Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said state officials needs to take a "long, hard look at the results of charters and vouchers."

Ann Duplessis, president of the pro-voucher Louisiana Federation for Children, said rules are already in place that allow the state to identify under-performing schools. "I think it would be a mistake for him (Edwards) not to open his mind and his heart as it relates to how kids learn today," Duplessis said.

The governor also has said it makes no sense for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve charter schools in high-performing school districts after the charters are rejected by the local school board.

Caroline Roemer, president of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, has said Edwards does not support public school choice. "I am going to take him at his word that he is not opposed to charter schools and therefore I don't expect to have a big agenda that targets our membership or charter schools," Roemer said.

About 80,000 students attend 149 charter schools in 22 Louisiana school districts.

"I think there are bigger fish to fry than whether charter schools should exist or not," she added.

Republicans will enjoy a super majority in the state Senate and are within two votes of having the same in the Louisiana House.

"One would have to guess the leadership is probably just as favorable as the last four years to the position for school choice and charter schools and accountability," Erwin said.

Another possible flash-point is changes in how public school teachers are evaluated.

Riddle said his group, which is allied with Edwards, wants to change the annual review rules knowing three years have passed since the last compromise.

Objective measures, including student test scores, now make up 50% percent of the annual reviews.

Another Edwards priority will be widening access to dual enrollment, which allows high schools students to earn college credit.

The governor is also expected to reshuffle some of his three BESE appointees.

Lurie Thomason, of Monroe, and Thomas Roque, of Alexandria, are low-key members who have experienced health problems.

Edwards' third appointee, St. Bernard Parish Superintendent Doris Voitier, has said she hopes to return to the board.

All eight elected members of the 11-person BESE were backed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which generally favors shakeups in traditional public school operations.  

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