State education board asks for $80 million funding increase

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Louisiana’s state school board is asking for an $80 million funding increase from state government for the 2020-2021 school year.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday unanimously approved requesting the increase, which is twice as large as what Gov. John Bel Edwards has asked for and represents the board’s first salvo in its negotiations with state lawmakers.

BESE crafts each year’s funding formula, which the legislature can approve or reject but cannot change. Rejection likely would trigger another BESE discussion about possibly tweaking the proposed spending plan and sending it back to the capitol before this year’s session ends June 1.

If the session ends without approval of a new formula, last year’s funding plan remains in place.

The approved Minimum Foundation Program formula includes a 2.75 percent increase to the statewide base per pupil allocation, from $4,015 to $4,125. The proposal would require schools and school districts where the average annual teacher salary is below the southern regional average to dedicate half of the increase to teacher raises.

“The teacher pay raise provision builds on the commitment expressed last year to ensure that the salaries of Louisiana teachers are brought up to the regional average,” BESE President Sandy Holloway said. “The formula sets a solid starting point in the funding process for 2020-21, and our Board looks forward to working with the Legislature to meet the financial needs of all Louisiana students and school districts.”

Last year, teachers received a $1,000 state-backed raise, while support personnel got an additional $500. Edwards described the pay bump as the first step toward raising teacher pay at least to the regional average.

Edwards’ current proposed state budget would add almost $40 million to K-12 education. While he initially didn’t stipulate the money should go to raises, drawing criticism from teachers who have been an important political constituency for the governor, he has since urged districts to use the money for that purpose.

Current projections indicate that 50 local districts and 40 charter schools would be required to dedicate funds to a pay raise, BESE says.