The Louisiana House advanced a spending plan on Thursday that removes a proposed $2,000 teacher pay raise and reduces thousands of early childhood education seats in order to pay down state retirement and pension debt. It also returns to Bobby Jindal-era budgeting by directing the Division of Administration, not lawmakers who crafted the plan, to implement a $95 million across-the-board cut to state agencies. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports on the shoddy logic that some lawmakers are using to justify their decision not to support the teacher pay raise included in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive budget. 

House GOP lawmakers believe paying off more retirement debt for teachers early would free up money for local school districts to give out raises to teachers in lieu of a state pay hike. But legislators can’t force local school officials to give teachers salary increases with the saved money — and most charter school teachers would likely miss out on a raise altogether if the House plan went into effect.  “You’re not funding a teacher pay raise by voting this bill,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who leads Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget efforts. “You’re saying we hope local school districts will vote for this pay raise.”

As The Advocate’s James Finn explains, the annual budget debate is only at the halfway point: 

The spending bills advance now to the upper chamber, where Senate President Page Cortez favors a dramatically different approach to balancing the budget and spending the extra cash. Backing Edwards, Cortez wants lawmakers to spend that money — around $1.1 billion more than expected in current-year tax revenue, plus $726 million in surplus collections from last year — on coastal restoration work and new roads and bridges, among other priorities.  The legislature needs to marshal two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate to surpass a constitutionally mandated spending cap that has emerged as another flashpoint of budget negotiations. House Republicans’ preference for paying off debt hinges largely on those payments not applying to the spending limitations.

Reducing teacher qualifications instead of raising salaries
Louisiana lawmakers continued their efforts to address the state’s teacher shortage on Thursday by lowering standards for entering the profession instead of raising salaries. Sen. Barrow Peacock’s Senate Bill 197 would change the qualifications for becoming a teacher in Louisiana in several ways, including eliminating a second background check and removing certification programs and proficiency exams for uncertified teachers with baccalaureate degrees in critical shortage fields. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports: 

The proposal would allow uncertified individuals with baccalaureate degrees in critical shortage fields to teach at the high school level on a provisional permit for five years, after which they will receive full certification. They would not have to enroll in a certification program or pass an exam, but school districts can only hire them if no one else with a professional certification is available for the position. … For those who have met all certification requirements but failed the exam, Peacock’s bill would grant professional teacher certificates to any applicants who scored within 10% of the passing score. It would also grant certificates to those who have graduated from a teacher education program with less than a 2.5 grade point average.

Last week, lawmakers advanced legislation that would allow people with two-year associate’s degrees to teach in public schools. A better way to attract more qualified teachers into the classroom would be to raise their pay.  

On the front lines of a toxic chemical zone
The Biden administration is attempting to crack down on a number of harmful pollutants that are released from petrochemical plants. That’s welcome news for residents near these refineries, as a first of its kind EPA study found that about 100,000 people living within six miles of plants it is focusing on, which are mostly in Texas and Louisiana, have elevated risks of cancer. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton tells the stories of people living near these facilities, including those who work for the companies that pollute their homes, such as Juan Lopez. 

[Lopez] He has reason to worry. Two recent assessments, by the Environmental Protection Agency and city officials in Houston, found that residents were at higher risk of developing leukemia and other cancers than people who lived farther from the chemical plants. These same worries afflict households in Illinois, Louisiana, West Virginia and other spots around the United States where families live near manufacturing facilities that make or use these cancer-causing chemicals. “Sacrifice zones — that’s what we call them,” said Ana Parras, a founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, which sued the E.P.A. starting in 2020 to push for tighter rules on toxics. “These areas here are paying the price for the rest of the nation, really.”

Economic consequences of U.S. default
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Congress on Monday that America could default on its debt as early as June unless lawmakers raise or suspend the nation’s borrowing limit. The standoff stems from House Republicans who are trying to use full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip to extract spending cuts. The White House insists that the debt ceiling, which was suspended three times with bipartisan support during President Donald Trump’s administration, is not up for negotiation. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell explains some of the devastating economic consequences that could result from the dangerous standoff. 

1) Treasurys get downgraded — as does virtually every other asset on earth. U.S. Treasury debt has long been considered risk-free, with the relative riskiness of other assets benchmarked against it. So the sudden realization that Treasurys are unsafe cascades through other assets, including bonds of U.S. corporations. These bonds would be downgraded, making it more expensive for companies to borrow. 2) Interest rates rise for U.S. consumers, businesses and the government. It becomes more expensive to buy a house or invest in new equipment. Our federal debt problems — the concern supposedly motivating default threats in Congress — also worsen as debt-service costs rise. (Merely flirting with default in 2011 increased government borrowing costs by $1.3 billion that year.)

Number of the Day
253,000 – Number of jobs the U.S. economy added in April. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)