By Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana House on Thursday unanimously approved the $30 billion state operating budget for next year, which aligned with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ agenda for $1,000 teacher and $500 support staff pay raises and a contested $39 million block grant for public school districts.
The Legislature’s budget deal also included boosts to higher education spending and early childhood education after years of standstill funding and cuts to these agencies and programs. It was the first significant statewide pay raise for teachers in a decade.
The budget will take effect on July 1, 2019.
This legislative session, which ended on Thursday, marked a sharp contrast with previous sessions that ignited partisan disagreements over deep cuts across state agencies as lawmakers were trying to address recurring budget crises.
The partisan dispute ended last year when the governor and Republican House leaders settled on a compromise to extend the state sales tax by .45 of a cent until 2025 to stabilize the budget.
This year, legislators used part of the revenue brought by the sales tax extension to increase funding across state agencies, including the teacher pay raises.
The 2019-2020 budget includes full funding for the popular TOPS scholarships and an extra $20 million for early childhood education, as well as boosts for higher education and the Department of Corrections.
The biggest budget contention was between the governor and House Republican leaders, spurred by House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, around the teacher pay raises and across-the-board funding for school districts.
House Republican leaders had sent a budget proposal to the Senate which included $1,200 pay raises for teachers and $600 raises for support workers, but not the $39 million block grant to school districts that the governor and the state’s education board sought.
But GOP lawmakers in the House Education Committee last week concurred with the governor’s pay raise rates and the inclusion of the block grant in next year’s budget.
In the Senate budget debate last week, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, objected to the budget. She said the budget was immoral because it did not include funding to support women and children, who would be affected by the state’s ‘fetal heartbeat’ six-week abortion ban passed earlier that week.
Peterson, who chairs the Louisiana Democratic Party, offered amendments to the budget that proposed additional funding to foster care, sex education and prenatal care services to women, but they were all rejected on the Senate floor.
Earlier in the session, the Senate rejected a proposal by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, that would have phased out the extra portion of the state sales tax compromise the Legislature passed in the previous legislative session.
The Legislature passed the budget minutes before the session officially ended at 6 p.m.
Immediately after the House finally approved the budget for next year, Rep. Terry Landry, a Democrat from New Iberia who has experienced the partisan wrangling of the previous years, commented “this is the first year in decades that our budget has been stabilized.”