Despite fervent pleas from education groups, the House Education Committee on Tuesday turned down Gov. John Bel Edwards' proposed $39 million increase for public schools.
The panel voted 9-5 along party lines to return the plan to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and for that panel to remove the school hike, which would be the second of its kind in the past decade.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, sponsor of the resolution that includes the increase, said the move is needed to ensure the state can afford the governor's plan to boost teacher pay by $1,000 and $500 for support workers.
Both of those pay increases, which would cost $101 million, enjoy bipartisan support.
Despite signs to the contrary, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday he hopes a key House panel next week approves legislation that would boost …
"I think we put the pay raise at risk if we don't take care of it now," Landry said of the school funding package.
In a statement after the vote, Edwards said he was disappointed in the committee vote and would work to find "common ground" with lawmakers.
The $3.85 billion spending proposal was approved by BESE on March 12 after a rare, personal pitch from the governor.
The Legislature can either endorse or reject the proposal, but cannot change it.
Returning the issue to BESE on the second week of the two-month session is unusual.
It also reflects an ongoing dispute between Edwards and House Republican leaders on how much money will be available for state services.
Committee member state Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, said Louisiana is already spending near the U.S. average for public school students — $12,153.
Without returning the issue to BESE, Edmonds said, there will likely be few new dollars for another priority — early childhood education.
While BESE holds its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Gary Jones, president of the group, indicated there is little chance the board will reconsider the issue then.
Jones, who lives near Alexandria, told the committee the board would "reflect" on the issue for at least a week before any action.
Moments before, the BESE leader said the funding request to the Legislature followed considerable deliberations and reflects the costs for educating children.
Leaders of public school groups including the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Association of Principals, Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools objected to the move.
They all urged the committee to approve the legislation — House Concurrent Resolution 1 — with both the $39 million increase for public schools and $1,000 for teacher pay raises.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' bid to boost teacher pay by $1,000 per year is winning wide support both inside and outside the Louisiana Legislature.
"I am asking that you please say yes to our kids," said Kelli Joseph, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of the St. Helena Parish school system.
Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, made the same pitch.
"We need to invest in education," Carter told the panel. "It is that simple."
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, told the committee, "I respectfully request that each of you do the right thing."
Landry said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, has pledged to try to find the $39 million from other sources if BESE returns a new funding request without those dollars.
Henry, who attended the meeting, said he would try to ensure funding for the "full life" of a child, including social services and other assistance.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee, criticized Landry's move to return the issue to BESE.
"This is very premature," Smith said. "It is earlier than we have ever done it before."
The committee action came on the same day that Edwards, who is seeking his second term this year, released 15- and 30-second digital ads touting his public school plans.
In his statement, the governor said the $39 million increase is needed for teachers "who often spend money out of their own pocket to buy supplies for their classrooms."
"This is why we included an increase in the MFP for the school districts above and beyond the pay raise," Edwards said.
School aid money is allocated to districts after being sent through a formula called the Minimum Foundation Program.
After a rare pitch from Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana's top school board Tuesday voted to request a $1,000 pay raise for public school teac…