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Education spending, literacy among topics covered in Louisiana budget meeting


By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Officials with the Louisiana Department of Education testified Monday on the governor’s proposed budget in the House Committee on Appropriations, where lawmakers focused on a variety of issues, from literacy to chronic truancy to learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Department of Education officials laid out specifics in the governor’s $8 billion education funding plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Nearly $4 billion, or about 49%, would come from the state general fund and about 44% would come from federal funds, with the remaining from interagency transfers, fees and self-generated revenues and statutory dedications.


Major aspects of the plan include an increase of $148.4 million from the general fund to give teachers a $1,500 raise and support personnel a $750 raise, which would bring the total spent on raises since 2019 to $329 million, or about $3,300 per teacher and $1,650 for support personnel.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Cade Brumley told lawmakers the department is suggesting to hold per-pupil funding through the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) at the current rate of $4,015 per student, which equates to about $4 billion; $3.75 billion from the state general fund.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education determines the MFP rate and is set to meet Tuesday.

Other highlights included a $45 million increase for subgrantee assistance, with $25 million going to the Child Care Assistance Program, $18.4 million in $1,000 rate increases for early childhood development, and a $4.4 million increase for 256 additional awards for the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.

Officials also reviewed the proposed budget for the Recovery School District, which would increase by about 20% from the current budget to $121.4 million.

Several representatives questioned Brumley on teacher shortages, and the superintendent said there are about 2,500 open positions statewide.

“There’s about 50,000 kids in our state today that don’t have a teacher … and they’re relying on subs,” he said.

Brumley stressed the importance of in-person learning and discussed chronic absenteeism plaguing schools, pointing to data from student test scores during the pandemic that showed about a 15% difference in proficiency between students who received mostly face-to-face instruction versus those who mostly attended virtually.

The American Enterprise Institute ranked Louisiana fifth in the nation for maintaining face-to-face instruction during the pandemic, he said.

“Overall, we’ve seen about a 5% drop in proficiency in our students,” Brumley said.

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, also questioned what steps the education department was taking to promote literacy, noting the Steve Carter Literacy Program approved by the Legislature last year.

The program offers $1,000 for tutoring services for students but did not come with an appropriation, Brumley said.

The Department of Education has set aside $40 million in federal funds to carry out the program as a pilot, he said.

“Those are one-time dollars that will run out,” Brumley said, but the pilot will provide data on how much it helps raise reading and math scores.

“One of the things we are trying to do is get all of the (school districts) on the same page,” he said. “It is a problem, specifically in our urban areas it’s a more significant problem.”

Brumley also discussed efforts to promote vocational occupations, improved teacher training for reading and the struggle of recruiting and retaining teachers in Louisiana, particularly in high need and rural school settings, among other issues.

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