The revamped state Senate Education Committee on Monday got a briefing on some of the challenges faced by colleges, universities and public schools, including sub-par faculty salaries, buildings in disrepair and children going without early child care and education.
The five-hour orientation session included comments from Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, state Superintendent of Education John White, leaders of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson and others.
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The committee, five of whose seven members are new to the panel, also heard from officials of a wide range of education advocacy groups, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana School Boards Association.
The 2020 regular legislative session begins March 9.
One of the recurring themes of higher education leaders Monday was the need for dollars to boost faculty pay, which was not included in Gov. John Bel Edwards' $32 billion operating budget proposal outlined on Friday.
Reed said that, when she hears from college and university officials, "faculty pay is always at the top of the list" of needs.
She said it would cost the state $36 million to boost average pay to the 16-state average set by the Southern Regional Education Board.
Thomas Galligan Jr., interim president of LSU, listed faculty pay as one of the school's three priorities, including funds to address mandated costs like retirement and health insurance and the backlog of deferred maintenance, including a new library.
Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, a member of the committee, said addressing campus building needs is often mentioned by school leaders but little noticed by taxpayers.
"We hear it all the time," said White, is is also chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. "Most people that pay taxes don't see that."
Henderson, whose system includes the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and University of New Orleans, said it would take $20 million to raise faculty pay at his nine schools to the regional average.
"These folks have options and they are more mobile than ever before," he said of faculty members.
Reed said that, of 100 white students who begin the 9th grade, only 18 will earn a post-secondary credential and eight black students will do the same.
"Those statistics are unacceptable in our state," she said.
The state produces about 40,000 credentials per year – below the national average – with a newly-announced goal of 85,000 annually by 2030.
After years of fits and starts, 2020 may be the year for a major breakthrough in state aid for early childhood education.
Edwards has recommended a boost of $25 million for early childhood education, which would reduce the number of children on the state's waiting list for care and education by about 4,000.
The governor has said for months that early childhood aid would be his top priority for new education spending.
A state panel called the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission this year and in 2019 has urged the state to boost aid by nearly $86 million per year for 10 years.
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Doing so, commission officials said, would provide coverage for 173,000 children from birth to age 3, who represent about two-thirds of the number of children those ages in Louisiana.
A total of 97% of infants, 93% of one-year-olds, 90% of two-year-olds and 66% of three-year-olds are unserved today, according to figures provided to the committee by the state Department of Education.