BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – The Louisiana House of Representatives advanced a budget that is a big change from what the governor proposed at the start of the legislative session. The main changes will do away with the teacher pay raises on the state level and not replace federal dollars in early education funding.

One of the challenges for this year’s budget is there is a lot of federal COVID-19 relief money that’s not going to be available. While the governor has asked state funds to replace some of that lost federal money, House Republicans want to limit that growth.

The big debate of the session is how to spend the surplus funds. The governor and some in the Senate suggest busting the constitutional spending cap to make one-time major investments. But in the House, Republicans are against breaching the cap and want to direct funds into the teacher retirement debt that would keep the cap in place and save on interest.

“You’re trying to get your house in order, your fiscal house in order. The first thing you do is pay off debt. Within that philosophy and mindset that we’re applying that to the budget,” State Rep. Jerome Zeringue. 

Under the new plan, the teacher pay raises are cut. Leadership said the local school boards will get some savings from paying down some of the teacher retirement debt and could use them for pay raises on the local level.

“By doing this, that $772 million debt can be eliminated by the end of FY25. And so for K-12, this is a savings of over $420 million in payments they no longer will need to make over FY26-29,” Zeringue said.

Some fear it will not be as much as the governor’s proposed raise for some school districts and there is no promise of the money being used for raises by the locals. House Democrats said charter schools also would not get to benefit since they are not part of the teacher retirement fund.

“But the teachers are very concerned. What is the priority of the local school board? So we’re going to go ahead and instead of directly funding their teacher pay raise, we are going to fund down to retirement in hopes that the superintendents are going to give a pay raise,” said State Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas.

There are also reductions to early childhood education by $51-million. Due to federal COVID money no longer flowing from Washington, the governor proposed to backfill that loss with state money. The proposed plan would not add in the extra funds.

Some lawmakers, included State Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, said thousands of kids will lose their seats in early childhood programs with the loss of federal funds and not backfilling it. Leadership said there are already significant investments toward early childhood education and they will work towards future dollars to put towards it. An amendment was added to HB1 that in the case the Film Tax Credit is repealed, the money opened up from that would be put towards funding early childhood education.

House Democrats said they stood together in voting against the bill to send a message they are not satisfied with the budget. House Republicans celebrated the budget, stating it is sound fiscal policy that is based on reasonable spending.

On the Senate side, there’s already been a resolution passed out of committee to bust the spending cap. So, there could be some more changes on the way for this budget.