BR.wildschoolbus.adv. 0077 bf.jpg (copy)

Two panels that advise the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met Tuesday to discuss state aid for public schools and how to spend $1 billion in federal coronavirus aid.

A key state panel Tuesday voted to double Gov. John Bel Edwards' public schools spending proposal, adding a $40 million hike for public schools to the governor's $40 million teacher pay raise proposal.

The $80 million recommendation by the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force now goes to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is set to tackle the issue March 9-10. BESE has to submit its funding request to the Legislature by March 15, and lawmakers can accept or reject it but cannot change the proposal.

The 2021 regular legislative session begins April 12.

The Minimum Foundation Program is the formula used by the state to allocate $3.9 billion per year for about 700,000 public school students.

Backers of the $80 million request called it reasonable, especially since more money may become available before the session ends in June.

"This is the best route to having something go through the process," Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents told the panel.

Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and a task force member, noted that the $80 million would represent a 2.75% increase in school spending – long the traditional target. Basic state aid for public schools has mostly been frozen for the past decade.

The Edwards' administration opted for $400 teacher pay raises and $200 increases for support workers only, which are also in the plan endorsed Tuesday.

"We are excited about the opportunity for education," Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told the task force.

The $80 million request was proposed by Janet Pope, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association. It won approval 14-3.

The pay raises, like those in the governor's budget, would be recurring.

Teachers in Louisiana are paid about $4,000 below the 16-state regional average, good for 12th in the region. Leaders of teacher groups last Friday blasted the $400 proposal as woefully inadequate.

Officials of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Louisiana Association of Educators voted "no" on the $80 million proposal because they saw it as inadequate.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

"Louisiana educators have been there, they have done their job," said Cynthia Posey, legislative and political director for the LFT.

In a statement after the meeting, LFT President Larry Carter said while his group hoped for a bigger request, members will work for passage of the plan "so that our schools and school employees aren't forgotten."

Tia Mills, president of the LAE, made the same point. "While other states were doing virtual they (Louisiana educators) never stopped," Mills said.

Mills said one of her education colleagues died Monday. "And that is all across the state," she said, a reference to the death toll from the coronavirus.

Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said the task force should consider $4,000 pay raises for teachers, $2,000 increases for support workers and an $80 million boost for public schools. "By being a little bit unreasonable, you move the conversation," Courville said.

Doris Voitier, chairwoman of the task force and a BESE member, said the increase for schools and teachers alone would cost $480 million per year, which she called "a little bit out of reach." Voitier is also superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish school system.

Last year BESE asked the Legislature for an $80 million increase, with half targeted for public schools and half to boost pay in school districts where teacher salaries were below the regional average.

However, that plan died amid budget problems sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Southern Regional Education Board, which keeps tabs on teacher salaries, has said average pay in Louisiana totaled $50,923 for the 2018-19 school year – the latest available for comparisons.

State officials on Tuesday put the average at $50,288.

Dardenne questioned whether the tabulations included $1,000 teacher pay raises approved here in 2019.

Others noted pay is rising in other states, and that Texas has approved teacher pay boosts of up to $5,200 per year.

LFT officials said lawmakers in Arkansas are considering $2,000 pay raises over two years and Mississippi legislators are debating a $1,000 per year hike.

The latest teacher average for Louisiana, which covers the 2019-20 school year, is $51,566 per year, officials said.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.