cnb LEG 6-2 ts 2571.jpg

Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge

Average public school teacher salaries in Louisiana finally reached the regional average in 2007, a breakthrough that was celebrated by politicians, education groups and others.

But now teachers are paid $1,705 less than their peers in the region, another casualty of Louisiana's seemingly endless cycle of budget problems.

The Louisiana Legislature on Monday began its latest special session to grapple with budget problems, this time a roughly $1 billion shortfall.

However, even a budget breakthrough by Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature is unlikely to generate enough dollars to change things on the salary front.

"At this point in time, until we get the budget stable, I don't think there is going to be a push to raise teacher salaries," said Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

The state had an abundance of dollars in 2007 when the Legislature approved pay raises of $2,375 per year, the biggest such increase in state history and one that allowed the Louisiana to reach the regional average.

Now the average pay for teachers is $49,244 compared to the $50,949 average compiled by the Southern Regional Education Board, according to 2015-16 figures, the latest comparison available.

The national average is $58,064.

Not only did state budget problems start mounting shortly after the state hit its salary target.

What  used to be the routine yearly hike in basic state aid for public schools – 2.75 percent – has all but disappeared from the legislative landscape.

That aid has been frozen for nine of the past 10 years, and Edwards is expected to recommend another freeze for the 2018-19 school year.

Half of those increases have to be used for teacher salaries, which means teachers lost their key source of revenue to help salaries keep pace with other Southern states.

Both teacher unions and other educator groups say the slip in funding teachers carries consequences.

Shane Riddle, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said pay problems make it hard to keep teachers from taking off for Texas and other better-paying border states.

"This is a really serious problem, we believe, and very well could be a serious problem if we don't maintain the salary above or at the Southern average," Riddle said.

He said he expects the current, $1,700 salary gap between the state and region to widen.

The controversy that erupted in Vermilion Parish last month stemmed from a teacher's complaint that she and others had gone years without a pay raise, while the superintendent there was in line for a $30,000 per year boost, to $140,000.

Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said teacher salaries have failed to keep up with those of their other, college-educated peers.

"I hear from a lot of teachers who love the profession but they leave after three to eight years into it because they have to make more money for their family," Courville said in an email.

The state is about to launch a campaign to attract more students to the profession.

State Superintendent of Education John White, Holly Boffy, vice-president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Brusly High School's Kimberly Eckert, state Teacher of the Year, plan to spell out details of the effort on Wednesday at 8 a.m.

Raises for public school teachers used to be an annual legislative topic.

In 2006 salaries shot up $1,500 per year.

In 2007 up to 7,000 educators rallied at the State Capitol for higher pay, and later an increase of $2,375 cleared the Legislature.

The state has around 47,000 public school teachers.

Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said the best hope for teachers to boost their paychecks is through their local districts.

"It is a vicious cycle," Faulk said of state budget problems.

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said teachers understand state leaders face big budget problems, especially since 2016.

That and other reasons means a rally at the State Capitol, like the one in 2007, makes little sense.

However, Carter said teachers and other school employees around the state raise the topic regularly.

"It is something that bubbles up in a lot of parishes around the state," he said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.