This year’s legislative session was never billed as an “education” session, as sometimes happens. But as it turns out it was a big one for public education at all levels, especially when it comes to new investments in students and educators.
There were more than 170 bills introduced on education this year, more than 10% of the total. While some were clearly bad bills, and some mostly worked on issues around the margins, there were a number of significant pieces of legislation that CABL believes will help move things forward in positive ways.
When it comes to funding, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of the new investments that were made. They span every area of education from the earliest years through higher education. Some of the highlights include:
- $84 million for early childhood education which includes expanding access for more children and putting $40 million in a special fund that local communities can leverage to expand additional child care opportunities.
- $148 million for a $1,500 pay raise for teachers and $750 for support workers.
- $159 million for higher education, the most substantial increase in history. This includes $31 million for faculty salaries, $15 million for needs-based aid, and a significant amount to cover other needs. On top of that, higher education also saw a major increase in capital outlay funding and deferred maintenance for campus building projects.
In terms of legislation outside of funding, probably the most significant dealt with a relatively new concept called Education Savings Accounts. Essentially, they are accounts that can be established for parents of public school students that allow them to use the state dollars that were targeted for that student in the public schools to fund their education in another setting – private schools, special tutoring, home schooling, etc.
A bill for universal ESAs was introduced, but shelved early on. Two bills that apply to students in special circumstances did pass however, one (HB 194) for students with certain exceptionalities and another (SB 203) for young students struggling with reading.
While the passage of these bills is unlikely to shake up public education overnight, this initiative is worth watching to see how both parents and schools react to this new school choice option.
Meanwhile there were several other bills of note that passed:
- SB 47 to expand opportunities for all four-year-olds to receive high-quality, full-day, year-round prekindergarten programming.
- HB 214 which requires passage of a targeted reading instruction and intervention test as one of the requirements for becoming a certified teacher in kindergarten through third grade.
- HB 911 which builds on legislation passed in 2021 to improve student reading skills in grades K-3.
- HB 231 & SB 261 to make it easier for postsecondary students to transfer credits that apply to their degrees between Louisiana colleges and universities.
- HB 333 to put more information in the hands of students and families about the options for dual enrollment and earning college credits or a credential while still in high school.
- HB 460 which will give many communities new options to raise local revenues for early education and leverage those dollars with state funds to expand access to quality child care services.
- HB 470 to allow limited, confidential sharing of data with parental or student consent to improve the effectiveness of workforce and college and career training programs in high schools.
- SB 50 to allow high school students who do not have access to programs leading to a college degree, credential, or apprenticeship to enroll in another public school that offers that program.
- SB 190 & SB 191 to expand opportunities for public school students to have access to computer science education.
- HB 1021 & SB 434 to allow retired teachers in certain circumstances to return to the classroom with full benefits in order to address the severe teacher shortages that exist across the state.
In other states, a number of legislatures became embroiled in controversial legislation dealing with teaching about race, gender, equity issues, and social studies requirements. In Louisiana, similar bills were introduced, but they were heard without the controversy seen elsewhere and decisively defeated without gaining traction. That was because legislators here chose the simpler, but still meaningful path of providing additional information to parents (HB 369) about their existing and significant rights to access school curricula, instructional materials, and other information.
In summary, this was a strong session for public education. The availability of a lot of money certainly contributed to that, but we’ve seen past legislatures dole that funding out to lower priorities that were soon forgotten. To a significant degree, lawmakers this year invested wisely in our schools and students.
They also enacted a number of policy changes, which may not match the sweeping reforms of some years, but do address areas of importance where improvement is needed.
We are disappointed that lawmakers were unable to increase teacher pay beyond the $1,500 that was finally approved. But this is an issue that is not going away. Louisiana has a severe teacher shortage and it has only been getting worse. Certainly, there are many reasons that contribute to this, but it’s hard to think compensation is not a key component. As other peer states like Mississippi and Alabama increase teacher salaries at significant levels, we need to develop a strategy to do likewise.
But looking at this session as a whole, it was a good one for education. Lawmakers identified a number of key issues and addressed them, killed bad bills, and avoided detours into areas that would not have been productive. We hope the importance of these successes carry over into years when the money is less plentiful, and the politics becomes more heated. That would be the best thing for our kids.