La House and Senate Education Committee in 2016

The Louisiana House and Senate Education committees in 2016. Senate Education Committee Chair Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, and House Education Committee Chair Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, sit on the raised back row dais. Also considering testimony, front to back, are Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, and Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge.

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.

"There is just a broad consensus in the Legislature that we want to give the teachers a pay raise," House Education Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said in an interview.

Landry, like other Republicans, rarely agrees with the Democratic governor on key public school issues. But the pay boost is backed by Republicans and Democrats alike as well as the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a wide range of advocacy groups.

Leaders of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Council for a Better Louisiana, Stand for Children, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana all think pay hikes of at least $1,000 are in the cards.

"I don't anticipate a battle over this," Landry said.

But a fight is shaping up over the governor's bid to boost state aid to public schools by $39 million, or 1.375 percent. The boost would be just the second time in the past 10 years that Louisiana increased what it spends per pupil.

However, key House Republicans and others contend that the increase for schools would be too much on top of teacher raises and that some of the money would be better spent on early childhood education.

That raises the specter of an education vs. education battle, which has advocates cringing.

State Superintendent of Education John White has said the biggest omission from the governor's $30 billion operating budget proposal is new money for early childhood education.

An influential task force that includes first lady Donna Edwards has asked the Legislature for $86 million to aid those from birth to age 3.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the state needs to spend at least $20 million for early childhood education. "And some of us are upset that the governor left it all out," Appel said in an email.

The session convenes April 8 and ends June 8.

Edwards, who is seeking a second term this year, has made clear that bigger paychecks for teachers — one of his chief political support groups — is his No. 1 priority.

The state has about 50,000 classroom teachers, whose average pay, coincidentally, is about $50,000 per year.

While estimates vary, Edwards says salaries here are about $2,200 below the 16-state average reported by the Southern Regional Education Board.

Louisiana ranks 37th in the U.S. for teacher pay.

The rosy outlook for pay raises winning final approval stems from three factors.

The increase would be the first of its kind in the past decade. Raising teacher pay enjoys bipartisan support anytime, and especially in an election year. And state leaders want to head off any talk of walkouts over pay like those in other "red" states, including Oklahoma, Arizona and West Virginia.

"I haven't heard any pushback on that issue," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings.

"I am thinking that those will go through," Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said of the raises.

Brigitte Nieland, government affairs director for Stand for Children, echoed the views of Morrish and Faulk. "And many believe it should be more," Nieland said of the $1,000 proposal.

Some lawmakers contend the raises should be targeted for high-need areas, like special education, math and science, rather than across-the-board.

"It would seem to me we should be rewarding excellence and rewarding good performance," said state Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, a member of the House Education Committee.

Edwards insists the increases should be the same for everyone, as well as $500 pay hikes for public school support workers.

Where battle lines are being drawn is whether public schools will land a $39 million increase in basic state aid in the $3.85 billion recommendation from BESE.

Backers argue that the increase is long overdue, especially amid rising retirement and health insurance costs for school districts.

Faulk said higher teacher pay will mean higher costs to districts for Medicare and workers' compensation.

"You could be selfish and want for a whole bunch more, but let's be realistic," said Faulk, former superintendent of the Central school system.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry's proposed operating budget — House Bill 105 for now — does not include the $39 million increase. That stems in part from an ongoing dispute over state revenue estimates, which may be resolved when the Revenue Estimating Committee meets in April.

Critics also say state spending per student is already at or near the U.S. average.

Landry said there is a philosophical dispute brewing on what public schools should get, especially compared to early childhood education. "The science is just compelling," she said in reference to the impact of early learning.

The chief target for funding is the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps finance education for children whose low-income parents are at work or attending school.

A total of 15,000 families are enrolled now, down from 40,000 years ago.

The waiting list is about 3,500 families, and White has said that could rise to about 10,000 later this year when some federal aid expires.

Teachers in early care centers are paid an average of $8.95 per hour.

What the state provides families is below the rates charged by 91 percent of centers statewide, forcing parents to pay the difference or pursue unlicensed care, officials said.

Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said $40 million would address the waiting list and boost state reimbursement rates.

"We need $40 million today," Bronfin said. "We needed $40 million 10 years ago when (the state) started cutting it."

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.