This week the Louisiana Legislature convened the 2023 Regular Session, which will last through early June. One of the most widely discussed proposals comes from the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and it’s a request to increase state funding for public schools as well as compensation for their teachers and support staff. In addition to receiving funding through the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funding formula, public schools also receive other state funds, local tax revenues, and federal funds.

Under the current proposal, the state’s total MFP spending increase would be $258.5 million dollars, with most of that increase recurring each year if approved. It would raise the MFP from just over $4 billion this year to nearly $4.3 billion next year in a state that leads the Southeast U.S. in per-student spending and has seen per-pupil revenue increase more than 32% over the past 20 years as student enrollment in public schools has decreased by at least 12%.

The proposal includes the following requests:

Pay raise of $2,000 for teachers and other certificated staff and $1,000 pay raise for non-certificated/support staff   $197.7 million

New “differentiated compensation” funding to address teacher recruitment and retention  $61 million

Increase in funding for “mandated costs,” described as increased operational costs   $21.5 million

Funding for student apprenticeships   $1.5 million

Funding for a French immersion school in Terrebonne Parish        $325,750

TOTAL                                                                                $258,512,590

Lawmakers will begin reviewing and asking questions about the proposal this week in budget hearings. While many support public education and want to be responsive to its needs, they’re rarely provided any justification for requests for increased funding. For example, the Louisiana Department of Education and BESE do not collect information from local school systems regarding any school employee salary increases provided or attempted at the local level before asking the state to fund a pay raise like the one above.

Just last month in Livingston Parish, voters rejected a proposal to raise local taxes to support a school employee pay raise. Many called on school board members to fund the pay raise by reprioritizing existing resources in the school system’s budget. But now, with no information provided to lawmakers whatsoever, taxpayers in Livingston and in other communities across the state could be on the hook for financing more local government employee pay raises year after year using state tax revenues. (On a related note, the state pays more than $4 billion per year for local government employee salary supplements and other local expenses. Funding to local governments comprises nearly 40% of the state’s general fund dollars.)

The information isn’t just lacking for school employee compensation. There has also been little, if any, supporting documentation for the other components of the proposal. What do we know about specific increases in mandated costs and local school systems’ efforts to address them? Apprenticeships are great opportunities for students – we should work to expand them – but is there a statewide plan with known costs and clear objectives?

There’s no question that lawmakers want to support public education, school employees, and students. And perhaps increased funding is indeed necessary in some areas and the state should contribute to that need. But as stewards of state tax dollars, lawmakers must make responsible spending decisions based on real information.

Just as they do when asked to increase funding in other areas of the state budget, they should ask education leaders about actual costs, needs, and priorities; how existing dollars from all funding sources are being used; and how outcomes from increased state investments will be evaluated. Lawmakers should also carefully consider the impact of increasing funding for public school systems that continue to experience declines in student enrollment and what this will mean for the future.

Only then can they determine whether proposed increases in state spending are defensible, sustainable, and will lead to positive outcomes for students and our state.