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House Appropriations proposes budget cuts to early education, smaller teacher stipends

Louisiana State Capitol in April 2022.
Kezia Setyawan
Louisiana State Capitol in April 2022.

Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee approved a state budget that reduces funding for early childhood education by more than $24 million and gives public school teachers a smaller stipend than expected.

Last year, the Legislature opted to give teachers a one-time $2,000 stipend instead of a permanent pay raise. Gov. Jeff Landry proposed a stipend again this year, citing the state’slooming deficit.

The budget approved by the House committee would lower funding for stipends from $198 million to $127 million. Teachers would receive a $1,300 stipend, $700 less than promised.

The drop in funding for early education would result in about 2,000 children losing access to services, according to Libbie Sonnier, the executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.

She said the state already has too few seats, with about 6,500 children on the waiting list.

“I understand the budget is big and you have to make decisions, but we just wanted to make you aware that’s the number of children that would lose access,” Sonnier told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Lawmakers chose to make cuts to early childhood education and teacher stipends to account for additional spending the committee adopted under the Minimum Foundation Program, a spending formula crafted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that determines how much the state spends per-student.

The committee voted 12-7 along party lines to adopt the state’s public school funding formula. Lawmakers cannot offer amendments and must adopt or reject the formula as proposed. Democrats objected to the formula because it did not include a permanent pay raise for teachers.

“We promised the school teachers of this state that we would give them $2,000, and we promised them that it would also be in the form of a raise. That’s what we were supposed to be moving this year” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.

The formula includes an additional $25 million districts can give to teachers based on performance or to those in hard-to-fill positions, like high school science and math or special education.

Lawmakers also added about $3.7 million in order to cash in on federal money for a summer food program for students.

Landry’s administration refused to fund the program, along with severalother governors in Republican-led states. He did not include the funding in his budget proposal. The committee also added $7 million for domestic violence shelters that Landry cut in his plan.

The full House is expected to consider the budget on Thursday.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.