Going into the 2020 Legislative Session there were thoughts it would be a fairly significant one for education at all levels. Those hopes were dashed rather quickly with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Now that the session has ended, it might not have gone totally as expected, but there were some positive outcomes to help both education and workforce development.
It was only a few short months ago that public education in Louisiana was looking at the opportunity for new investment the likes of which it hadn’t seen in some time. Thanks to a relatively strong revenue forecast, the governor was proposing a $25 million increase in funding for early education, around $60 million for K-12 education, and $35 million for higher education. There was also talk of another teacher pay raise on the heels of last year’s $1,000 pay boost.
Then COVID-19 came along and those hopes were dashed. Though the state still doesn’t have a budget as the current special session begins, it’s likely that K-12 funding will remain the same as last year, higher education will be cut by about $21 million, and the hoped-for increase in early education won’t materialize. The good news – that outcome is far less grim than originally expected thanks to a massive influx of federal dollars.
But the session wasn’t all about money. While there were no major education reform initiatives in the works this year, some positive things did happen, and they were focused in areas of importance to the state.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: The Legislature extended the term of the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission which was supposed to disband in March. While that might not sound like a big deal, this group has done important work in its recommendations to expand access to early education and care. Now, with COVID-19 impacting so much of the child care sector – a critical player in getting people back to work – there remains much more for this commission to undertake.
DUAL ENROLLMENT: This bill does two things. It creates a special grant program to support local school districts, particularly those in rural and underserved areas, to help them expand access to dual enrollment opportunities for students. It also puts in law guiding principles for a more robust and equitable dual enrollment framework for our state. Dual enrollment is an important tool to help students receive college credit or a workforce credential while still in high school. CABL believes this legislation is a critical first step to broaden dual enrollment opportunities for more students, increase education attainment in our state, and help strengthen Louisiana’s workforce.
TOPS ADJUSTMENTS: This bill makes some needed, temporary, changes in qualifications for TOPS scholarships. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, it has been impossible for some students to take needed assessments, finish course work on time, and meet some application deadlines that are required by law to receive TOPS. This legislation does not weaken qualifications for TOPS, but it does provide needed flexibility for students who, except for circumstances caused by the COVID outbreak, would otherwise be qualified for a TOPS scholarship.
WORKFORCE DATA: This resolution tasks the Board of Regents and other agencies to develop a plan for an effective way to follow the progress of students who obtain jobs and internships after graduating from Louisiana colleges. It is critical that Louisiana continues to develop a highly-skilled professional workforce. CABL believes the information generated from this work will help our colleges and universities improve their planning, provide better service to students and employers, and ultimately strengthen the state’s workforce.
INFORMATION ON HIGH-WAGE, HIGH-DEMAND JOBS: With this legislation, schools will now be required to provide students with information about high-demand, high-wage jobs while still in high school. Louisiana is seeing greater participation in programs that allow students to receive college credit or an industry credential while still in high school. Unfortunately, too many students are earning these credits in fields that do not reflect the high-quality, high-demand jobs available in their region. Through this legislation, students will receive more useful career information that will help inform their future education choices and contribute to building Louisiana’s workforce.
While these new laws don’t represent sweeping changes in any of our education structures, they do move us forward in several key areas of importance to our state. And the opportunity for advancement isn’t over.
The call for the current special session includes an item specifically addressing workforce training. There are a number of good ideas under consideration to help in that critical area and, partially because of COVID-19, the chance to make some significant improvements that can have a lasting impact.