Being average — not above average, but simply average — doesn't sound like much of an achievement. But when Kathleen Blanco was governor, her successful push to raise teacher pay in Louisiana to the Southern average was widely celebrated.
If only the leaders who followed in her footsteps could replicate the accomplishment.
The cost of years of budget crises, which started under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and have continued as current Gov. John Bel Edwards has pleaded with the Legislature to raise revenue and stabilize the tax structure, has fallen on many of regular Louisianans.
Among them are public school teachers, who have lost the relative gains they made during the Blanco years and now take in $1,705 less than their regional peers, according to the latest figures compiled by the Southern Regional Education Board. And needless to say, Louisiana teachers' pay lags much further behind the national average.
Average public school teacher salaries in Louisiana finally reached the regional average in 2007, a breakthrough that was celebrated by politi…
Blanco, it should be said, benefited from strong revenues during her later years, due in large part to recovery money that flowed to the state after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, revenues from the since-repealed income tax portion of the popularly approved Stelly Plan, and tax proceeds from high oil prices. All of those wells ran dry on Jindal's watch, and Edwards is still grappling with that legacy.
But it should also be said that Blanco made respecting teachers and investing in education a priority.
In this era of the $1 billion fiscal cliff, you hear a lot less talk, at least at the state level, about paying teachers.
It's not that Edwards doesn't share Blanco's priorities. He ran and won with strong support from teacher unions and frequently points out that his wife Donna is a teacher. The real challenge is that he's got bigger fish to fry.
And teachers who show up to do a difficult job every day are left with the reality that just being average now seems out of reach.