Friday, May 17, 2024

Louisiana House passes budget with uncertainty on how much pay teachers will receive

by BIZ Magazine

BY: JULIE O’DONOGHUELouisiana Illuminator

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted to approve a nearly $48 billion state budget plan Thursday that cuts public school teacher compensation, even after several legislators vowed to make the educators’ previous pay hike permanent this year.

The plan also does not specify that the teacher stipend funding needs to be distributed evenly to all public school teachers, as it has been in the past. School districts would have the flexibility to decide whether to give some teachers more money than others within their own systems, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said.

McFarland, who oversees the House budget-writing process, said Gov. Jeff Landry did not want the school districts to be locked into a system where the teacher stipend had to be given out evenly.

House budget leaders also aid they have to try to control costs, including teacher compensation, in light of a $558 million budget shortfall expected next year. An automatic sales tax cut is scheduled for 2025, which will leave the state permanently short on money.

Outside of teacher pay, the House budget plan also takes away 2,000 early childhood education slots after July 1 and does not raise reimbursement rates for Medicaid childbirths or offer more doula funding, even though experts suggested those measures might bring down Louisiana’s high rate of maternal mortality.

Instead, the budget plan expands funding for public safety, giving $52 million more to the prison system and $22 million more to the state agency that oversees Louisiana State Police. Some of this money would go toward creating a new state police troop in New Orleans.

Anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers would also see a sharp increase in public funding, from $1 million in federal funding this year to $3 million in state funding next year.

Lawmakers have also prioritized a targeted tutoring program for elementary school students ($30 million) and publicly funded roof fortification grants ($15 million). The latter initiative is aimed at easing Louisiana’s homeowners property insurance crisis.

The House version of the budget also includes over $40 million in pet projects, which are state grants to local parks, sheriffs, religious institutions and nonprofits legislators pick in secret. These programs are funded, even though they don’t reflect the state’s budget priorities.

Funding for domestic violence shelters ($7 million) and a federal summer food program for low-income children ($3.7 million) was also restored in the House after being dropped by the governor.

But Landry’s rejection of the summer food program earlier this year might mean families won’t see the summer food relief during the actual summer. Department of Children and Family Services Secretary David Matlock said Louisiana’s delay in participating in the program will mean that food assistance might not reach families until next year.

News of a potential delay to the summer food program for several months angered legislators. McFarland called it “hogwash” and said he would make every effort to get the program up and running for this year’s summer instead.

In response to criticism over the past three days, the House also lessened an initial teacher pay reduction proposed in a budget plan released earlier this week. Representatives shifted $39 million more into a teacher stipend to backfill their original cut, though they did not fully restore the amount originally proposed.

If money for teacher and school support staff stipends was distributed evenly to teachers across the board, it would mean teachers would get an almost $1,700 stipend next academic year – less than the $2,000 they received this year. Public K-12 school support staff, who received a $1,000 stipend this year, would also receive less money as a result of the cut.

But the House budget proposal doesn’t call for the $166 million for teacher and school support staff stipends to be distributed evenly. Its members voted for a plan that would allow school districts to give different teachers in their systems different amounts of money, McFarland said.

Unlike the current academic year, teachers would receive next school year’s stipends by Dec. 15, 2024. Some teachers are still waiting on their $2,000 stipend for the 2023-24 school year because school districts were given until May 1 to give out the extra money.

On top of the $166 million in stipend funding, lawmakers voted to put an extra $25 million toward differential pay for teachers. This money is supposed to go toward higher pay for educators in hard-to-fill positions such as high school science and math courses, K-12 special education classes and those in low-income schools.

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