Tuesday, May 21, 2024

K-12 teacher, college faculty pay raises proposed in next Louisiana budget

by BIZ Magazine

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator 

Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to put a portion of Louisiana’s $2.2 billion in better-than-expected revenue toward K-12 teacher and higher education faculty pay raises that would take effect July 1. The governor is also proposing to use the extra money for transportation projects, higher education initiatives, paying off disaster-related federal debt and state building projects.

Edwards unveiled his spending proposal Friday for the 2023-2024 budget cycle. Legislators will weigh in with their financial priorities over the next several months, with elected officials expected to settle on a compromise budget plan by the end of June. 

Since he took office in 2015, the governor has promised to prioritize K-12 teachers salaries. This year, Edwards proposes increasing teacher pay by at least $2,000 annually and school support staff pay by $1,000 a year. The governor has also said if the state is still experiencing higher-than-expected revenue collections by May, the teacher pay increase should be bumped up to $3,000. 

Teachers have seen several modest increases in pay during Edwards’ seven years as governor, though their total pay bump has only amounted to $3,300 under his tenure. Another $3,000 increase would nearly double their total increase during Edwards’ two terms in office.

The governor also hopes it would help Louisiana surpass the southern states’ regional average for teacher pay, which is just over $55,000. Louisiana’s current average is $53,000.

In total, the teacher and school support staff pay raise would cost the state approximately $200 million to $270 million, depending on whether teachers received $2,000 or $3,000 more in pay.

The governor also wants a 2% raise for higher education faculty, which would cost the state about $56.5 million annually. University and college faculty received a 3% increase in pay last year

Under the governor’s plan, an increase in pay for local law enforcement and first responders would also continue in perpetuity, costing the state $23.4 million. Last year, Edwards and lawmakers agreed to give police and first responders a one-time pay bump of $1,200. This would make that pay hike – likely doled out in $100 monthly increments – permanent. 

Louisiana’s $2.2 billion in extra money to spend comes from three different pots. Approximately $725 million is surplus funding unused in the previous budget cycle, which closed out last June. An additional $928 million comes from higher-than-expected revenue collections in the current budget year. The state anticipates receiving the remaining $605 million in unprojected revenue next year. 

Legislators face restrictions on some of that extra funding, particularly the $725 million surplus from last year. By law, much of that money can only be used for certain state government functions, including paying down retirement debt and increasing a state’s reserve account – often called the “rainy day fund” – that will help prop up state government during future economic downturns. 

The governor and lawmakers also agree that a large chunk of the additional funding should be used to deal with one-time projects instead of recurring state expenses. If elected officials build too much more ongoing spending into the state’s financial plan, they put Louisiana at risk of having large budget problems when the state’s economy falters. 

In that vein, Edwards has proposed using a large amount of the additional revenue, $340 million, for transportation projects. The funding is expected to be used as matching resources to attract more federal transportation dollars and to cover existing project cost overruns.

The governor also wants to settle disaster-related debt owed to the federal government. He proposes putting $100 million toward closing out bills with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Another $20.5 million from the state’s new money will be used to help close out the Road Home program that was setup to help homeowners with significant damages from Hurricane Katrina. 

Edwards has also set aside $84 million in funding for state building repair and major purchases. Much of this money will go toward fixing up the prison system, which has several facilities with repair needs. Some of the money will also be used to purchase vehicles for the Department of Children and Family Services and to build security towers at juvenile justice facilities. 

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