Louisiana House OKs budget proposal without teacher pay hike
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s Republican-dominated House advanced a budget plan Thursday that does not include a $2,000-a-year teacher pay raise sought by the governor and would instead steer a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars in extra state revenue toward paying down retirement debt.
Republicans called the plan financially responsible and said it would save school districts money in the long run by letting them spend funds as they best see fit, which could include wage increases for educators.
“How do you take one-time dollars and make it a long-term recurring benefit?” Republican state Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue said Thursday. “I hope we demonstrate (how) through this bill.”
Democrats countered that without the Legislature specifically allocating money for teacher pay raises, there is no guarantee that districts will do so on their own.
“You’re not funding a teacher pay raise by voting for this bill, purely and simply,” Jay Dardenne, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ chief budget architect, told lawmakers. “You’re saying you hope local school districts will vote for a pay raise.”
The 2023-24 budget bill, which passed 77-33 in the House and now advances to the Senate, has illustrated GOP political resistance to Edwards’ efforts to pass legislation in his final year in office.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that teachers need to be paid more so the state can attract and retain talented educators. Teachers’ salaries in Louisiana, which routinely has one of the worst education rankings in the country, are $3,000 lower than the average for the South.
“We have a shortage of teachers, not enough students are enrolled in colleges of education and we are in a fierce competition with neighboring states to keep the teachers we have,” Edwards said during his State of the State address in April.
Edwards and Democrats say that in a year where $2.2 billion in extra state revenue is forecasted, teacher pay raises should be a top priority.
But Republicans say the state, which has had seen significant budget shortfalls and cuts in years past, would see a better impact by using the windfall to pay off part of Louisiana’s retirement debt. Lawmakers are concerned about a projected $418 million annual loss of revenue when a temporary sales tax hike expires in 2025, according to The Advocate.
Zeringue said teachers should theoretically see an increase in their paychecks by not paying 4% of their salaries into the retirement system. Additionally, he said that “by making extra payments that we’re proposing in the budget this year and next, the state and our school systems save hundreds of millions of dollars in the next few years.”