Louisiana’s rosiest financial outlook in years paved the way for a record-breaking legislative session for education.
The Legislature approved an $84 million hike in state aid for early childhood education, which advocates called historic.
State aid for colleges and universities rose $159 million, the largest funding increase ever for higher education.
A nearly $32 million boost for faculty pay – the most in 16 years – puts the state on target to reach the regional average next year.
“This year’s budget for higher education is one for the record books,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said when the nearly three-month session ended Monday night.
The Legislature also passed seven bills aimed at tackling the state’s chronic literacy problems, especially for students from kindergarten through third grade.
Less than half of Louisiana public school students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades are reading on grade level, according to ne…
One of the measures, House Bill 911 by Rep. Jason Hughes, would require K-3 students to undergo two additional literacy screenings, and for parents to be notified if their child is reading below grade level.
Intervention plans, including parental involvement, would be launched for children identified with reading problems.
“These are proven to be effective with student populations that are most similar to our students in Louisiana,” said John Wyble, president and CEO for The Center for Literacy and Learning.
Another plan, House Bill 214 by Rep. Richard Nelson, toughens initial teacher certification standards aspiring educators have to meet, including benchmarks that are based on scientific and evidence-based principles.
“Literacy attainment begins with a quality educator in every classroom,” Wyble said.
Some of the gains stemmed from the state’s roughly $3 billion surplus, which came about from a gusher of federal aid because of the coronavirus pandemic and better-than-expected state revenue.
Teachers landed a $1,500 per year pay raise but it was less than the $2,000 boost that Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and teacher leaders Monday criticized the decision of the Legislature to limit pay raises for teachers to $1,500, not th…
“We are still below the Southern regional average and there are still special interest groups who are working to undermine the education profession when we should be working together,” said Tia Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two teacher unions.
Edwards noted that the increase marked the fifth time during his seven years in office that the state boosted teacher pay. ‘Yes, I think it should have been a little bit bigger,” he told reporters during his end-of-session press conference.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the Senate settled on $1,500 in part because it wants local communities to do more for teachers.
Average teacher pay in Louisiana in 2020-21, the latest snapshot available, was $52,472 per year, 43rd in the nation, according to a survey by the National Education Association.
The state ranks 12th of 16 states in the region, according to data released in April.
The U.S. average is $65,293.
The $84 million hike for early childhood education includes $40 million to match local childcare efforts, $25 million to aid low-income families who rely on child care while they work or attend school and another $18 million for LA4, the state’s pre-K program for at-risk children.
The topic was one of Edwards’ legislative priorities.
The Council for a Better Louisiana noted that the state’s bright financial picture aided education.
“But we’ve seen past legislatures dole that funding out to lower priorities that were soon forgotten,” the group said.
State aid for need-based assistance, called GO Grants, will rise by $15 million, the most since it began 14 years ago.
The Legislature approved another $313 million for capital improvements at college campuses, a 77% hike over last year.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the state’s largest business lobby, praised approval of two bills that would allow some students to leave public schools, then get access to $5,400 in state aid to attend private school or pursue other education options.
One of the plans, Senate Bill 203, would apply to second and third graders reading below grade level.
A bill that would allow second and third graders reading below grade level to leave public schools and take $5,400 in annual state aid with th…
The other – House Bill 194 – would benefit students with mental disabilities, hearing loss and other challenges.
“These bills are a huge step forward in improving literacy rates and giving teachers the resources they need to help their students succeed,” said Lauren Gleason, director of education for LABI.
But Edwards stopped just short of saying he would veto the reading bill and possibly both measures.
“Generally speaking I do not favor taking public dollars out of public schools and sending them to education that is not public,” he said.