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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday to discuss Gov. John Bel Edwards' proposed budget for public schools.   

Public schools in Louisiana are getting more than $4 billion from three rounds of federal stimulus dollars to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, and a state Senate leader said Tuesday he wants to make sure the once-in-a-lifetime windfall is not squandered.

"We will be wanting to know how you plan on spending that money," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bodi White, R-Central, told state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley.

White noted that the $4 billion is roughly the same as the recommended funding for nearly 700,000 public school students for the 2021-22 school year.

"What I don't want to see as chairman of finance is to see the money squandered," White said.

"It is a lot of money, and most of the superintendents I talked to say they have a wealth of money right now and they have a wealth of money coming," he added.

"I do hope they (local superintendents) heed your warnings and advice and use the money wisely over two or three years and pay for some of the things they have wanted forever."

The issue surfaced during a hearing on Gov. John Bel Edwards' proposed public schools budget, including $3.9 billion in aid to public schools.

The $4 billion plus in federal aid stems from a trio of bills approved by Congress in March, December of 2020 and March of 2020.

Brumley noted than 90% of the federal dollars go directly to local school districts, and state officials are not allowed to mandate how schools spend the aid.

But he said state education leaders have lined up the federal money and Louisiana public school priorities, and offered guidance to local school districts "to help them think through what would be an appropriate use of those dollars."

He said upgraded summer school programs, including this year to help students make up academic ground lost during the pandemic, are one of the priorities.

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The $4 billion for public schools is in addition to nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars for private schools and the child care industry.

The latest round of federal aid, which was approved by Congress in March, includes $172 million for the Jefferson Parish School District; $145 million for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District; $63 million for the Orleans Parish school system and $64 million for the St. Tammany Parish school system.

Edwards has recommended a pay raise of $400 per year for teachers and $200 for support workers – $40 million per year.

The superintendent said that, of teachers who leave Louisiana classrooms, 44% do so in the first five years and 61% in the first 10 years.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has asked the Legislature for twice that much – $40 million to boost teacher pay and another $40 million increase to boost spending per student by 1.375%.

Brumley said 71% of students are getting in-person instruction.

He said a national survey showed Louisiana ranks seventh in the U. S. for in-person learning.

Another 20%  of students are relying on virtual learning and 9% use both distance and in-person instruction.

Brumley said 2% of students have tested positive for COVID-19 during the 2020-21 school year.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.