JBE at LAE 041319

Gov. John Bel Edwards told teacher Saturday, April 13, 2019, that he hopes the House Education Committee takes up legislation that would provide only the second hike in school aid in the past decade.

Despite signs to the contrary, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday he hopes a key House panel next week approves legislation that would boost state aid for public schools by $39 million.

The House Education Committee is set to take up a proposal Tuesday by Louisiana's top school board that would provide only the second hike in school aid in the past decade.

However, House Education Committee Chair Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, and other GOP leaders have questioned the increase for expenses and said early childhood education is a more pressing need.

The panel may vote to return the proposal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for changes.

The $39 million, plus $1,000 teacher pay raises that enjoy bipartisan support, are key parts of the governor's 2019 legislative agenda.

The aid hike amounts to 1.375 percent.

"I believe that it ought to increase by 1.375 percent, which is what I have asked them (legislators) to do," Edwards told reporters after addressing the annual meeting of the Louisiana Association of Educators. LAE is a teachers'  union and political ally.

"I am hopeful that they are going to do that on Tuesday," he said.

"If they choose not to we will have to sit down and figure out what happens next," Edwards said.

The Legislature can only accept or reject BESE's funding request but cannot change it.

BESE meets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

However, BESE President Gary Jones, who lives near Alexandria, said Friday he has no plans to revisit the panel's school funding request immediately.

"The issue is too complex for us to decide with a knee-jerk reaction one day after the action of the committee," Jones said of a possible Wednesday look at the issue.

"We will take our time and study the issue carefully and then make what we think is an appropriate decision."

The $39 million boost is backed by the LAE and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, among others.

Legislation similar to Landry's plan – House Concurrent Resolution 1 – is also pending in the state Senate and sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings.

The governor has clashed with House GOP leaders all three plus years he has held office.

The Senate is generally more sympathetic to his agenda.

The push to boost state aid for early childhood education has gained momentum in recent weeks.

Both a new state panel and BESE have asked the Legislature for $86 million for the programs, including efforts to trim a 3,500-family waiting list for one that aids low-income families while parents work or attend school.

Edwards said previously early childhood programs would be a priority in 2020, which would be the first year of his second term.

But he told LAE members that the Legislature needs to at least come up with $8.8 million to replace an expiring federal grant that aids Louisiana's youngest children.

"We will have it as our highest priority as we move through the session," Edwards said. 

"I really believe we will be successful."

The governor did not include new dollars for early childhood education in his $30 billion operating budget, sparking criticism from state Superintendent of Education John White and others.

Landry said earlier that the benefits of educating youngsters during their formative years are overwhelming. "The science is just compelling," she said last month.

Edwards' $1,000 teacher pay raise enjoys support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

"That is going to happen," he told LAE members.

The plan includes $500 pay raises for cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and other support personnel.

The governor noted that a poll released last week by LSU showed 88 percent support for teacher salary hikes. "I didn't know you could get 88 percent of the people to support apple pie," he said.

The LAE, which has about 20,000 members, was expected to formally endorse Edwards' re-election bid Saturday night.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.