Louisiana News

Louisiana lawmakers advance spending boost for teacher raises, keep mandatory kindergarten alive

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Senate Education Committee endorsed a $94.7 million spending increase Tuesday to cover raises for teachers and school support staff.

The boost to the state’s Minimum Foundation Program, which is better known as the MFP and represents the main state contribution to K-12 education funding, is meant to pay for $800 raises for teachers and $400 increases for other staff.

The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference, which decides how much money state lawmakers have to spend, may raise the state’s official revenue projection Tuesday, which could allow for bigger raises. Louisiana teachers reportedly make about $4,000 less than the southern average. Gov. John Bel Edwards and many legislators would like to get state teachers’ average salaries closer to that of their peers.

House Bill 1, which lays out the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, does not currently include money to increase the per-pupil allocation to school districts and a $2,000 stipend for mentor teachers, which the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had sought in its first MFP proposal. BESE revised its proposal as legislators requested.

Only BESE can alter the MFP, but the Louisiana Legislature can approve or reject it, which often leads to a back-and-forth exchange between the two bodies. If the session ends without a new MFP, the current one stays in place for another year.

The House Education Committee also declined Tuesday to endorse or reject Senate Bill 10, which would make kindergarten mandatory. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, most students who turn age 5 on or before Sept. 30 would be required to attend full-day kindergarten.

Sen. Cleo Fields, the Baton Rouge Democrat who chairs his chamber’s education committee, said research indicates much of a child’s brain development happens early, arguing that early childhood education is a good investment of taxpayer money. Several statewide education and business groups support the change.

The bill includes an exception for homeschool students. Homeschool advocate Jessie Leger, nonetheless, argued against it, calling it an “expansion of government and a limitation on parental rights.”

Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, also described the change as “an infringement on parental rights.” He said he would not object to the bill in committee because he believed it was important for the full House to debate the measure.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates increasing kindergarten enrollment by 1% to 6% would cost an additional $2 million to $12 million. The committee voted to recommit the bill to House Appropriations, which handles spending.

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