Education funding topic of town hall

The Louisiana Public School Coalition hosted a community town hall Tuesday at Sowela Technical Community College to discuss the public education decisions to be made in the upcoming legislative session.

State Senators Ronnie Johns and Dan “Blade” Morrish and House Representatives John E. Guinn and Stuart Moss were present with members of the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees, Louisiana Association of Principals, Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Retired Teachers Associations and Louisiana School Boards Association.

In a panel discussion, the legislators addressed the issues of funding for school systems, pay raises for teachers and school employees and the recruitment and retention of certified teachers.

There was consensus among the panel on the necessity and worthiness of a teacher pay raise. “We should do it. It’s long overdue. The money is there. We can do this,” Johns said.

However, the idea of more than $1,000 for teachers and $500 will likely not be supported, despite teachers being well-deserving, Morrish said. “One thing that I’ve learned in my 23 years in the legislature is if you can’t count, you need to get out of this business. I can count. The votes are not there for a 10 percent raise, because the money is not there.”

The Louisiana Constitution has a mandated balanced budget requirement, Johns explained.

With approximately $300 million of new funding to be included this year and surpluses still unconfirmed by the Revenue Estimating Conference, he said, it is unlikely teachers will rise above the Southern average of teacher pay this year.

“If we could have that pot of money to put into our budget next year, we’re going to be able to do some things for education in terms of funding, not just the teacher pay but MFP, higher education and (we’ll) get back to where we’re going (the Southern average).”

Yearly focus on education would solve many of Louisiana’s education crises, Guinn said.

“I think we need to do is work on a dedicated source of funding that re-occurs every year to where these problems, they’d probably begin to disappear.”

Moss said there is expected to be “high-turn over” in both the Senate and House this year and education issues will hopefully take the forefront with “new sets of eyes and ears there to support education.”

Though panel did not refer to any specific legislation regarding retirees and Industrial Tax Exemption Program application, they did express positive regard towards allowing retired teachers to re-enter the system without penalty and supported the idea of requiring ITEP seekers to pay their share of property taxes which would support school systems.

The legislative session begins April 8.

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