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The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday debated how much school aid to request from the Legislature, which begins its 2021 regular legislative session on April 12.

Louisiana's top school board Tuesday voted to ask the Legislature for an $80 million hike for public schools, double the amount sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The money would provide a $40 million to boost teacher pay by $400 per year, which the governor proposed, and a $40 million increase in basic state aid for public schools.

The session begins April 12.

The Legislature can accept or reject the request by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education but cannot change it.

The issue sparked little discussion and came at the end of a 7 1/2 hour work day.

It also mirrors the recommendations of a task force that voted last week for an $80 million increase.

Teacher leaders urged the board to back bigger teacher pay raises.

Cynthia Posey, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said her group favors pay hikes of no less than $1,000 and at least $500 for support workers.

Posey said compensation is the key reason why teachers are leaving the profession, and educators have worked through the once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic. "They were there for the children," she said.

An official of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the state's other teacher union, echoed those views.

BESE's request, like the governor's, includes a $200 pay raise for school support workers. It would also include about $2 million to fund stipends for teacher mentors, who help aspiring teachers and whose ranks have been hard to fill.

Whether adding that to the request, and how to do so otherwise, sparked much of the discussion.

Neither the request by BESE nor the governor would get average pay close to the regional average.

That gap is about $4,000, and Posey and others noted that Texas, Mississippi and other states are boosting pay for their teachers by heftier amounts than what is proposed in Louisiana. Average pay here was $50,923 for the 2018-19 school year, the latest available for comparisons.

Edwards has vowed to get teacher salaries to the average set by the Southern Regional Education Board by the time he leaves office in 2024.

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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said that, if he had a magic wand, getting pay over the regional average would be his aim.

But Brumley also favors targeted pay for hard-to-fill jobs, educators who work in high-needs public schools and other areas.

Any such push would spark controversy in the Legislature.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and other administration officials have said they hope they can do more for teachers and public schools with this year's budget if the financial outlook improves.

The pandemic has cast a shadow over budgeting for the financial year that begins July 1, which is what the Legislature will be addressing.

However, more federal aid may be on the way for both state government in general and public schools in particular with the expected approval of the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill. That measure is awaiting a final vote in the U. S. House, possibly Wednesday.

The governor's $400 teacher pay raise plan sparked anger from his longtime allies in the LFT, LAE and elsewhere.

Some teacher leaders called the proposal insulting in a $36 billion operating budget, especially amid the growing gap between pay here and the regional average.

Edwards has said budget limitations restricted his flexibility, and kept open the possibility for bigger pay raises to develop before adjournment on June 10.

The money being sought by BESE goes through a complex formula called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP.

It is usually a late-session decision, and BESE members left open the possibility of submitting a second proposal if the state budget outlook brightens.

The BESE vote Tuesday was technically a committee decision.

However, eight of 11 panel members were on hand and final approval is expected Wednesday when the full board meets at 9 a.m.

School leaders are already scrambling on how to spend about $1 billion for Louisiana public schools that Congress approved in December.

Brumley said the $1.9 trillion bill may mean another $2 billion or so for public schools.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.