Louisiana education budget sent back to board after teacher raise cuts

William Taylor Potter
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Louisiana Senate Education Committee voted down the state education board’s changes to its funding formula – including raises for teachers and bonuses for teachers in high-needs areas – and the board will meet Wednesday to come up with a new plan.

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, passed changes to its Minimum Foundation Program in March, which included a $2,000 raise for teachers, a $1,000 raise for support staff and stipends for teachers who worked in critical needs areas, high-needs schools, were rated as highly effective or took on additional teacher leadership roles.

Should Louisiana schools be required to have recess?

But the Louisiana Legislature had the final say on whether those changes would be enacted. On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee voted to send the plan back to the drawing board.

Senate President Page Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette, said it would be virtually impossible to advance the MFP proposal in its current state since the Louisiana House voted to strike a large chunk of the requested money from the executive budget. Cortez said even if the Senate decided to do that, it would take a two-thirds vote of the House to add that money back to the budget.

“I’m a pragmatist. I like to think in practical terms,” Cortez said. “And I’m just going to answer that I don’t think we would get the votes, maybe not even in the Senate, but I feel confident that it wouldn’t get the votes in the House to raise the expenditure limit to get this MFP as you all have sent it to us incorporated into the budget.”

The MFP is the formula the state uses to allocate state funds to the individual public school districts. BESE unanimously approved six changes to the formula in March, including $197.7 million for teacher and support staff raises, incentive stipend funding for school districts, funding for apprenticeships, an increased allocation to help districts with inflation, funding for the state French immersion school, and stipends for teachers finishing their in-classroom work for certification.

The legislature cannot make changes to the MFP plan submitted by BESE, so the plan heads back to the board for it to make changes and submit the new formula to the legislature.

Louisiana ranks 41st for Pre-K-12 education, up from 46th in 2019

“We want to honor and value the teachers across the state, provide a pay raise for them along with our hardworking support staff, but also recognizing the operational costs that have increased for our local systems,” Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said.

It’s been a rough session so far for education advocates, who saw a large chunk of early childhood care and education funding struck from the proposed budget as well as the teacher raises proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. 

Instead, the legislature is putting some of that money toward paying down debt for the teacher retirement program in hopes that it will save the local school districts some money and that the districts will pass on savings to teachers in the form of raises.

In discussing the proposed MFP changes, Sen. Cleo Fields, a Democrat from Baton Rouge and the committee’s chair, asked Brumley how the teacher shortage was still impacting Louisiana. Brumley credited the legislature for making some changes in the last session that helped cut the number of vacancies from 2,520 vacancies statewide two years ago. This year, the state had 1,203 vacancies. 

“We’ve cut that by 52% over the past year,” Brumley said. “I’ll also note that our retention rate is up, so we have increased teacher retention from 84% to 86%...but the fact remains that outside the parent/guardian, there’s no one that’s more important for the academic outcome of a child than a highly-effective teacher for each child, and we are still in need of additional teachers across the state. And we do believe that pay is an important element to filling that void.”

Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat from Monroe, was critical of BESE’s decision to put $1,000 per teacher in a pool for incentive-based stipends rather than giving a $3,000 raise across the board like the governor proposed. 

She said she had concerns about the state paying teachers varying amounts for the same instruction depending on their area.

“Basically, the way I look at it is whether we value teachers all over Louisiana,” Jackson said. “Whether I’m in East Baton Rouge…whether I’m in East Feliciana where there may not be a teacher shortage, or whether I’m in Ouachita Parish where there is a teacher shortage or Morehouse, I’m still providing the same instruction to the students. That is always my concern when we begin to put a value on our teachers based on their locale.”

More than 200,000 Louisiana workers have quit their jobs in 2023

The board ultimately made several suggestions on how BESE could amend its MFP proposal in a way that might pass through the legislature, including bringing the teacher raises more in line with the governor’s proposal.

Sen. Kirk Talbot, a Republican from River Ridge, said he wanted to be able to vote to pass the MFP proposal as is, but acknowledged that it would not fair well in a House vote. He said he hoped that the legislature would have a more clear idea of where the budget stood when the new MFP proposal came from BESE.

“If we move forward now, with the facts that we know, we could jeopardize getting nothing, and that, to me, would be a terrible thing,” he said.