BESE vote

Louisiana's top school board Tuesday, May 7, 2019, opted to stick with its earlier request for a $39 million increase for public schools.

Setting up a clash with the state House, the Louisiana Senate approved a $39 million increase for public schools Wednesday in a plan that also includes $1,000 teacher pay raises.

The vote was 37-1.

The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, moves to the state House, where the same plan was rejected by the House Education Committee.

House leaders have questioned whether the state would have enough money to finance the public school teacher pay raises if the $39 million increase is included.

House and Senate leaders will try to hammer out a compromise before adjournment on June 6.

The legislation spells out how to spend $3.85 billion for the 2019-20 school year, including $500 increases for cafeteria workers and other support personnel.

It is backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has made teacher pay raises his top priority for the session, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"We need to make a public, positive statement to public education, to those teachers who work day and night to educate our children, that we value what they do," said state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield.

The resolution spells out how to allocate money through the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP.

Backers say it is crucial for the boost in state aid and the teacher and support personnel pay raises to be included in that formula to ensure recurring funding.

The House-passed budget – House Bill 105 – includes funds for $1,200 teacher pay raises and $600 increases for support workers.

Those increases would not be in the MFP and, critics say, amount to one-year stipends.

The House-passed budget does not include new dollars for public schools districts, which have had only once such increase in the past decade.

The Senate-passed resolution, which was sent to the Legislature by BESE, can be approved or rejected but cannot be changed.

The lone "no" vote was cast by state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

Appel said that, while he does not oppose a pay boost for teachers, he opposed the measure because of the lack of any major funding increase for early childhood education.

The Republican said $8.8 million in new aid for early childhood education is in the budget while backers have requested $86 million.

"My vote is because I want to see substantial funding for early childhood education and I want to start it this year," Appel said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, sponsor of the resolution, agreed that early childhood education is a worthy cause.

"However, it is not part of the MFP," Morrish said.

Edwards praised the Senate vote in a statement.

"Thanks to the overwhelming support of the Louisiana Senate, teachers are one step closer to getting a well-deserved and long overdue pay raise this year, and schools are closer to getting their needs addressed through a boost in the MFP," he said.

Louisiana teachers are paid an average of $50,000 per year.

Edwards has said the $1,000 raises would be the first of three years aimed at reaching the Southern regional average.

State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, said his wife is a former school teacher.

Without an increase for public schools, Morrell said, teachers will be forced to use their own money to pay for school supplies.

"There is a reason why BESE is asking for $39 million," he said.

The plan backed by the Senate, BESE and the governor would cost $101 million for the teacher and support personnel pay raises.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.