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Louisiana schools will see large increases in funding for literacy, early education programs and public universities, as its Legislature directed money from excess federal COVID-19 relief packages toward education.
“We know that we have too many kids who by the second grade are not reading at grade level … and we don’t do a very good job of catching them up,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday during a press conference following the 2022 legislative session.
The literacy problem in Louisiana was clearly a point of emphasis for lawmakers this session. Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, placed the blame on massive cuts to the education budget over the years.
Louisiana K-12 education’s budget has been reduced 40% to 60% over the past 10 years, Jackson said, and that lawmakers who voted for those cuts are now panicked about the state’s bad early education outcomes.
Education investments from this year’s budget include $17 million dedicated early childhood programs, $27 million to early childhood support services and $159 million to higher education.
Edwards said the increase in Louisiana’s higher education budget was the largest in the state’s history. Included is $31 million for faculty salaries, $15 million for needs-based aid, and major increases in capital outlay funding for deferred maintenance on campus building projects.
“This was a strong session for public education,” Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, said in a statement Monday. “To a significant degree, lawmakers this year invested wisely in our schools and students.”
The Legislature also passed multiple bills that increased funding for early education and literacy.
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House Bill 911, authored by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, creates additional early literacy assessments for students in kindergarten through third grade. It “requires an individual reading improvement plan for each such student” who reads below grade level.
Senate Bill 47, authored by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, expanded opportunities for all 4-year-olds to receive high-quality, full-day, year-round prekindergarten programming.
While the dramatic increase in education spending is being applauded in most circles, there are questions on whether the state can meet such needs on a recurring basis.
The Louisiana Department of Education has reported that the total cost of providing a literacy coach in every school would cost the state $25.8 million per year, according to the Hughes bill’s fiscal note.
The Legislature also passed a couple bills that take funding away from public schools to pay for private or homeschooling.
Edwards said he doesn’t favor such bills but will meet with one of the bill’s authors before deciding whether or not he would veto the legislation.
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