For years, Louisiana was plagued by budget deficits and financial uncertainty. The weeks leading up to the legislative session have often been filled with dire budget news and talks of cuts to programs and services for those who most need our attention — Louisiana’s children.
This year should be different, as things have greatly improved for Louisiana’s economy, and Gov. John Bel Edwards and the legislature worked together as partners during the last legislative session to take the steps necessary to stabilize Louisiana’s budget.
Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Louisiana has a budget surplus and additional revenue coming in. The governor is proposing funds to invest in education.
There’s just one catch: House Speaker Taylor Barras for months has been the lone holdout on the Revenue Estimating Conference, refusing to recognize the additional revenues coming into the state, blocking Edwards’ administration from moving forward with plans for teacher pay raises and jeopardizing other areas of the budget.
The revenue forecast for the state has improved, and the governor should be able to bring a budget bill to outline his priorities for the state. Refusing to recognize revenue when economists are certain it exists slows down our progress. It’s politicizing a process that should be straightforward.
And it puts our education system at risk.
Right now, Louisiana is struggling to keep and attract high-quality, certified teachers because it’s been so long since their pay was raised. Louisiana has reported teacher shortages in every subject since 2004.
These struggles can lead to poorer outcomes for our students, including the 40 percent of Louisiana children who already start kindergarten behind because they do not have access to quality early childhood education. Without high-quality teachers, these children will simply fall more and more behind.
Edwards has said funding for early childhood education is a priority, and we believe him. He and first lady Donna Edwards have been incredibly involved in the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission. They understand the needs of our children, and they are working to make multi-year investments in teacher pay and, down the line, in early childhood education as well.
That said, we can’t wait. Louisiana needs to make these investments, pay raises and funding for early childhood education, this year.
That’s why it is time for Speaker Barras to vote to recognize the revenue coming into the state, accepting one of the carefully prepared revenue forecasts and allow the budget to move forward and be debated.
Louisiana at long last has resources to dedicate to education. Let’s not let politics get in the way of helping our children now, and in the future.
M. Pres Kabacoff