In a major surprise to teacher leaders, Gov. John Bel Edwards is opting not to recommend a teacher pay raise for 2020, officials said Friday morning.
Instead, teachers will have to rely on local school districts to boost salaries from their share of a proposed $39 million increase in state aid for public schools, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said.
Dardenne made his comments during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
He outlined the governor's spending priorities for the financial year that begins on July 1.
The legislative session starts on March 9, and teacher pay is sure to be a key issue.
Edwards has repeatedly said that he favored boosting teacher salaries yearly -- starting with the $1,000 raises approved last year -- so the state can reach the regional average over the next four years.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he wants to push teacher pay to the regional average over the next four years, but education groups aligned with th…
Most teacher leaders assumed he would push for at least another $1,000 increase or more.
They have also said the issue needs attention to avoid teacher walkouts like those in Oklahoma, Arizona, West Virginia and other states.
The lack of any specific recommendation for another raise this year means teachers would be dependent on their local school districts for a bigger paycheck, and that would be anything but certain.
District leaders say they are strapped amid rising costs for health insurance, retirement and other costs.
Cynthia Posey, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, was taken aback by the lack of a pay hike in the governor's spending plans.
"I am floored. I am really floored," Posey said.
The state has about 50,000 teachers.
Pay here averaged $50,359 per year compared to $52,178 in the 16-state region.
The figures are from 2017-18, the latest available for comparison purposes.
Average pay nationally is $60,642.
The LFT and the state's other teacher union, the Louisiana Association of Educators, have long been aligned with the governor.
Both were among his earliest supporters when he was a longshot contender for governor in 2015.
Posey, who was watching Dardenne's presentation, noted that Edwards and lawmakers last year said repeatedly that they "had a plan" to get teacher pay to the average set by the Southern Regional Education Board.
"And we are not seeing that," she said. "We definitely have concerns about that."
Last year local districts had the option of supplementing the $1,000 state pay raises with increases of their own.
How many did so is unclear.
Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said Friday he knew of only a handful of districts, including the Ascension Parish school system, that approved their own teacher pay raises last year.
Faulk also said teachers cannot assume local school superintendents will back higher pay in lieu of any state increase.
"Some of them are barely hanging on," he said, a reference to district problems caused by rising health insurance and other costs.
Shane Riddle, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Association, noted that the budget presented on Friday is based on revenue estimates that may rise when the Revenue Estimating Conference reaches agreement.
"We have time to work through this," Riddle said. "Once the additional revenue is recognized I think the budget proposal may look different."
The $1,000 pay raises pushed by Edwards last year included $500 increases for support workers, including cafeteria personnel.
It is costing the state more than $100 million to fund.
In an interview after the meeting, Dardenne said proposed hikes for colleges and universities, public schools and early childhood education "soaked up most of the money that we were using as incentives."
"We just don't have that kind of money in the budget," he said, a reference to the $100 million plus commitment in 2019.
"The locals will have to make a decision if they want to do anything with the increases they get," Dardenne said. "It would be modest at best."
Edwards has said for weeks that early childhood education would be his top priority for new state dollars.
He is recommending a $25 million boost aimed at trimming the waiting list of about 4,000 children and their families for education and child care while parents work or attend school.
The Legislature approved an increase of about $20 million last year.
The presentation of the governor's spending recommendations is the start of a lengthy process, including debates in the House and Senate before any final version is approved.