By Madeline Meyer and Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The House on Thursday passed a $30 billion operating budget for next year that includes $1,200 teacher pay raises, $600 for support staff and full funding for TOPS scholarships, but not the $39 million for public schools sought by the governor.
In stark contrast to previous budget debates, the full House almost unanimously approved the bill in a 100-1 vote.
The budget now moves to the Senate, which could push to add in the $39 million for the schools that Gov. John Bel. Edwards originally proposed. Edwards, a Democrat up for re-election, proposed pay raises of $1,000 for teachers and $500 for support workers.
Republican House leaders suggested that the state cannot afford both the teacher pay raise and the $39 million increase for public schools.
House Education Committee Chair Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, commented after the vote that the big issue between the House and the Senate will be whether to fund both the pay raise and the increase for the schools.
“We feel like we can’t do both right now,“ she said. “It’s too much of an ask, 4.5 percent increase for one year for both the increase in the teacher pay and the increase in the across-the-board funding.”
The Legislature is debating how to allocate an extra $119 million in revenue, while previous years it had to slash funding across state agencies to avoid budget deficits.
Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said the budget bill is “not perfect, but it’s an improvement from what we’ve seen in past years.”
Landry expects the biggest disagreement between the House and the Senate to be over funding the Minimum Foundation Program, a formula that determines allocations to each K-12 district and the education costs for students of public elementary and secondary schools.
The formula of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Edward’s budget proposal align but clash with the budget that the House advanced Thursday.
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said he hopes the House members who supported the budget would also support the MFP and not “continue to play games with the MFP because that is a ticket piece to the budget, and without that piece, nothing we did today is going to be real in terms of teacher pay raise.”
Teacher unions support the plan by Edwards and the education board plan, which would include the pay raises in the formula, making them a permanent part of each teacher’s base salary.
The Legislature can only vote the education board’s funding plan up or down, and if the board and lawmakers cannot agree on the overall funding total, the pay raises could end up being just one-time stipends.
Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the pay raises could be permanent if the board adjusts its formula. But at a meeting Tuesday, the education board refused to adjust it.
At that meeting, teacher advocates urged the department to keep the original formula, stating they would take the risk that the raise would just be a one-time stipend to gain the $39 million for the schools and have the raise embedded in the plan.
“We want something that is sustainable, cannot be a one-time stipend, and they cannot continue to starve our school districts,” Debbie Meaux, the president of the Louisiana Association of Educators said Thursday in an interview,
The budget bill also would provide an additional $36 million of state funds to higher education. Part of this extra money will be be used to fully fund the popular TOPS scholarships.