Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday he has “no doubt” lawmakers will ultimately endorse his plan for teacher pay raises and school funding, a day after the state House easily passed a budget at odds with his proposal.
Edwards is trying to give public school teachers and support staff $1,000 and $500 raises, respectively, as well as deliver a $39 million block grant to school districts. The plan was endorsed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees public schools.
But House Republican leaders spurned that plan in favor of a larger pay raise for teachers, $1,200, and support staff, $600. They also nixed the $39 million block grant in the budget bill, which passed out of the House on a 100-1 vote Thursday.
Still, Edwards said at a press conference Friday “the votes are there” to pass his plan in both the House and Senate. He said he’s heard from “many House Republicans who support” the funding plan.
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"It appears the Senate is on the verge of agreeing with the BESE board,” Edwards said, referring to his plan for teacher pay and school funding endorsed by the board.
“I happen to believe there's a majority of members in the House who agree with the BESE board. I think where we're headed is toward an appropriation that matches the formula that BESE has already sent over."
Edwards added he has “no doubt” the House would pass the plan he has outlined.
The governor’s position could lead to a collision with House Republican leaders on teacher pay and school funding, the biggest source of controversy in the state’s $30 billion budget. In a break from years’ past, the Legislature is currently wrestling with where to spend a recently-recognized $119 million in additional revenue, as opposed to severe budget shortfalls.
The governor has made raising teachers’ pay, a generally popular proposition in Louisiana, his number one priority this year, as he runs for re-election as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. Lawmakers have widely backed the idea.
Rebuffing House leaders, Louisiana's top school board Tuesday opted to stick with its earlier request for a $39 million increase for public schools.
But House Republican leaders, led by Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, pushed through the alternate proposal, with larger raises but no block grant. BESE recently considered the Republican plan but opted to support the original pay raise and funding proposal.
Henry noted Friday that no member of either party tried to amend the budget bill as it made its way through the House on Thursday to try to change the teacher pay or school funding plan. If the House really is amenable to the governor’s proposal, Henry said he would have expected some lawmakers to try to change it on the House floor.
“I don’t see why anybody would want to vote to decrease the teacher pay raise we gave them Thursday. It doesn’t make any sense,” Henry said. “I think (the vote) sends a pretty strong signal to the administration not only on the teacher pay raise” but on the rest of the budget as well.
Henry indicated Thursday a willingness to negotiate with the Senate and come to a compromise, and he said Friday he’s willing to potentially give some money to school districts “if they can justify why they need it.”
Lawmakers must approve a "formula" for school funding that includes the teacher pay raises for them to become permanent.
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Edwards at his press conference pointed to a coalition of public school groups endorsing the plan for a $39 million block grant and $1,000 and $500 respective raises.
He also said he thinks school board members are accountable to their voters just like lawmakers, in response to concerns from some Republicans who say they don’t know what the money will be used for if they give them a block grant.
While lawmakers and the governor wrangle with the state budget, there are also a slew of bills that would chip away at the state sales tax deal struck last year that shored up Louisiana’s finances.
Bills by opponents of Edwards, like House GOP leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, would roll back the 0.45% sales tax hike that ended last year’s budget stalemate. Others, are from Edwards’ allies, like a proposal from state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, that would exempt tampons and feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax.
Edwards left himself some “flexibility” on the issue Friday, but said generally he opposes efforts to chip away at the sales tax through exemptions and other expenditures.
“It is my intention to protect the state general fund in the budget,” Edwards said. “I will tell you there won’t be any high-dollar items in terms of new tax expenditures that I’ll be approving.”
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