Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Concerns on spending state’s surplus on teacher pay stirring up controversy

by BIZ Magazine

By Molly Ryan, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–Conservative lawmakers’ concerns about spending some of the state’s surplus on teacher pay raises is already stirring up controversy on the third day of the session.

Education Superintendent Cade Brumley told the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday that the department’s budget proposal would give an initial $2,000 pay raise to teachers and $1,000 to support workers as outlined in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget.

Edwards wants all K-12 teachers to receive an additional $1,000, bringing the total to $3,000, if state revenue projections increase in May.

If that additional revenue becomes available, the Education Department’s proposal, however, calls for putting it into a pool that could be divided differently among teachers. Brumley suggested that teachers in hard-to-fill positions like special education, math and science might receive anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 on top of the basic $2,000 raise.

He said this proposal would still bump teacher salaries in the state by an average of $3,000, pushing Louisiana to the Southern regional average, which includes Virginia and West Virginia, and above the average for states with universities in the Southeastern Conference, or SEC.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has unanimously approved the department’s proposal.

Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was encouraged by the department’s proposal for giving bigger raises to teachers in high-priority areas and called it “game-changing.”

Some lawmakers expressed concerns about the nature and sustainability of the raises.

Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield and chairman of the Louisiana Conservative Caucus, said the state would take on $525 million in recurring expenses if an average pay raise of  $3,000  is implemented. He worried that the raises are consuming the revenue generated from the temporary 0.45 percent sales tax increase that ends in 2025.

McFarland and Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Ascension, suggested the Legislature would have to cut funds elsewhere to sustain the pay raises.

“Everybody can talk about it, but we have to fund it,” McFarland said.

The state has a $1.6 billion surplus but cannot spend more than $500 million of it without a two-thirds vote from lawmakers, and McFarland has raised concerns about increasing the cap.

Additionally, Bacala expressed hesitation about giving additional funding to low-grade schools.

“It’s time for us to use this budget to press bad systems to get better for the benefit of the kids,” Bacala said.

He pointed out that Louisiana spends more per student than other states with SEC schools yet falls behind them in teacher salaries. He questioned whether resources are being distributed efficiently. Bacala said he wants to use money to incentivize better performance from schools to benefit children.

Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Jefferson, said a school’s annual “D” or “F” grade is not necessarily an indication that teachers and other staff are not working to improve performance or that they are undeserving of a raise.

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