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Panel OKs $30 billion state budget

BATON ROUGE — The House Appropriations Committee on Monday advanced a $30 billion state operating budget that would include $1,200 raises for public school teachers and $600 raises for support staff.

That marked an increase from the $1,000 raises for K-12 teachers and $500 for support workers that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed. The higher raises would cost an additional $20 million.

But the committee, led by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, rejected the governor’s proposal for a $39 million increase in funding for operating the schools.

That rejection came in a 17-3 vote shooting down amendments proposed by one of the governor’s floor leaders.

The committee also increased funding for higher education and fully funded the popular TOPS scholarships for college students.

The House is expected to vote on the budget on Thursday. Edwards also could make another push for more state aid to K-12 schools when the bill reaches the Senate.

But Edwards, who is running for re-election, might now be compelled politically to support the higher teacher pay raises, leaving less money available for increased aid for the schools themselves.

Edwards did not say Monday if he would support the higher raises. But he did reiterate that the proposed $39 million for the schools was “very important.”

It also is unclear if the raise for the teachers and support employees will be a one-time payment or permanent.

Edwards and teacher unions, which support him, would like to see the pay raises included in the state’s formula for funding schools, called the Minimum Foundation Program, so that the raises would recur.

The House Education Committee previously voted to send the funding plan back to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), suggesting that the board remove the $39 million. The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss that.

Rep. Henry said he favored increasing the teacher pay raises over providing more money to the schools themselves. He said that the state’s school spending per pupil is around the average for a Southern state, while pay for the teachers lags the regional average.

“Hopefully, we can work with our friend over at BESE within the next couple weeks to determine what they are going to do,” Henry said.

The committee’s version of the bill includes $8.8 million to continue early childhood programs as a federal grant expires.

But Jan Moller, the executive director of the nonprofit Louisiana Budget Project, said the committee’s budget does not fully fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food-stamp program.

Photo Caption: Rep. Cameron Henry, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed a $30 billion state operating budget on Monday. (Photo by Madeline Meyer / LSU Manship School News Service)

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