State budget expected to advance Monday with education amendments

State budget expected to advance Monday with education amendments

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Senate Finance Committee will work through the weekend to determine how they’d like to change the state’s $30 billion operating budget before amending the bill and advancing it to the senate floor on Memorial Day.

Lawmakers heard public testimony on this year’s budget for the last time Friday, May 24.

“Please don’t let us die,” one woman living with a disability said, pleading with the committee to maintain funding the House included in its version of the budget.

In the current iteration, TOPS is fully funded and higher education would see an increase in funding. The largest divide between Governor John Bel Edwards and House Republicans, for now, is over teacher pay.

Governor John Bel Edwards
Governor John Bel Edwards

Edwards had proposed a $1,000 pay raise for teachers, along with $500 for support staff. He would also increase per pupil funding by $40 million through the K-12 finance formula.

House lawmakers have said they would rather increase pay raises of $1,200 and $600, respectively, instead of providing the $40 million for K-12. They argue teacher pay should be prioritized, since Louisiana teacher salaries are below the regional average and the per pupil funding is in line with the regional average.

The House would also reduce the amount the governor proposed for Medicaid vendors by $44 million.

“We actually have sufficient funds to do most of the things that I think many of us would like to do,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said Thursday. “We obviously can’t do everything, and I think that’s really the hallmark of where we are now.”

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne

The Senate has already approved a K-12 financing formula that assumes there will be a $40 million increase in per pupil funding. Most politicos expect the Senate Finance Committee, often friendly to Edwards’ proposals, will restore that bump to school districts.

“We’re going to have a proposal, they’re going to have a proposal, and we’re going to have like a few days left to hash out a compromise,” Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said Thursday. “Why wouldn’t we be sitting together now, at least on [education] while we have a little time?”

“If we wait until next week, you’re going to end up with nothing,” he continued, noting that the end of session looms and, typically, the K-12 formula is approved much earlier.

If the budget includes teacher pay raises and the formula is not updated, the pay raises would be treated as one-time stipends. Lawmakers will have to update the financing formula to make the raises permanent, whether the formula includes a bump for school districts or not.

“The important thing, right now, is for the budget to move forward and for the Senate to put its stamp on it and what it believes are the most important priorities,” Dardenne said.

Session ends June 6.

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