By Tryfon Boukouvidis , LSU Manship School News Service
Baton Rouge — The Louisiana Senate passed on Thursday in a 35-2 vote a $30 billion state operating budget for next year that includes pay raises for school teachers, across-the-board increases for school districts and a boost for early childhood education.
Eric LaFleur, a Democrat from Ville Platte who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said on the Senate floor “I think we have a budget that we can be proud of.”
The Senate Finance Committee on Monday amended the budget bill to better reflect the proposals of Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Board of Education and Secondary Education, or BESE, on public school funding. But the proposal differed from what House Republican leaders pursued.
Earlier this month, House Republican leaders had sent the budget proposal to the Senate after an almost unanimous vote that included $1,200 pay raises for teachers and $600 raises for support workers but excluded the governor’s plan for an additional $39 million block grant for school districts.
Yet BESE refused to back down from the $39 million state aid proposal.
But eventually GOP lawmakers in the House Education Committee on Thursday backed the governor’s proposal for public school funding.
The Senate-amended budget includes a $140 million increase for K-12 schools, comprised of $1,000 and $500 pay raises for teachers and support workers, respectively, and $39 million funds for school districts.
The budget proposal also entails full funding for the popular TOPS scholarships and increases for health programs and the corrections department, but senators removed an increase for the Office of Motor Vehicles that the House had proposed in order to reduce waiting time.
During the Senate’s budget debate, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat from New Orleans who chairs the Louisiana Democratic party, offered amendments that would have provided for additional funds to foster care, sex education and prenatal care services to women.
The amendments were posed as a response to Louisiana’s ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill, a strict abortion ban that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law earlier that afternoon.
“So members, we’ve decided that in this budget it’s not a priority to take care of the healthcare of the women that are forced to have children as result of the new [‘heartbeat’] bill,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s amendments were rejected.
The Legislature has struggled in previous years to address recurring budget crises.
Lawmaker’s disagreement on which state agencies and services to defund has ignited partisan wrangling on several occasions.
But after last year’s sales tax bipartisan compromise that temporarily stabilized the budget, lawmakers now have to allocate new money instead of reducing funds across state agencies.
In his concluding remarks on the budget bill, LaFleur, who has experienced the partisan turbulence of the previous legislative sessions, said the Legislature has a commitment to do the right thing.
“But we still have a ways to go,” LaFleur concluded.