desk stock file photo school

During a tour of the West Jefferson High School with coronavirus precautions it can be seen that each desk in the classroom has a grey or red sticker on the top corner in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Each period, students will be asked to alternate their use of desks and to clean them off after each class. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The gap between average pay for teachers in Louisiana and the Southern regional average shot up by 74% in the past year, according to the latest snapshot released Tuesday.

Teachers here were paid an average of $50,923 for the 2018-19 school year compared to $54,930 across the 16-state region – a gap of $4,007. During the previous school year teachers in Louisiana were paid an average of $51,403 compared to $53,709 in other states – a gap of $2,306, according to the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta.

The regional average is a longtime and elusive state goal.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has vowed to reach the average before he finishes his second term in 2024, and the governor earlier this year proposed raises of $500 after a $1,000 increase last year.

But the coronavirus pandemic killed the $500 push when state revenue plummeted, and whether a renewed push will happen in 2021 is unclear.

In addition, the $1,000 raises that won legislative approval in 2019 were on the low end compared to what other states were doing.

"It equals to basically a cost-of-living raise that would happen in other professions," said Megan A. Boren, who studies teacher salaries and other issues for the SREB.

Pay in South Carolina last year rose by up to 10.6%, $3,000 in Georgia and $2,000 in Florida, according to the survey.

The previous year salaries in Oklahoma rose by up to 18% after a teacher walkout that won national attention.

Shane Riddle, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Association of Educators, noted that Louisiana has been chasing the regional average for years.

"If the Legislature doesn't fix the problem and do something about it we are going to continue to fall way, way behind and suffer as a state," Riddle said.

'The bottom line is the Legislature needs to make it a priority and John Bel needs to make it a priority," he added.

The average teacher salary nationally for 2018-19 was $58,540.

Louisiana is ranked 11th in the region for what it pays teachers, ahead of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, West Virginia and South Carolina.

Maryland is tops in the 16-state region with average teacher pay of $70,463.

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said while teachers are handling virtual learning and other new chores because of the pandemic more federal aid for state and local governments that could aid educators is in doubt.

Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said competitive pay is needed to enhance student learning. "We are losing too many talented teachers to neighboring states," Courville said in an email.

The report comes on the heels of a separate study by the state Department of Education that shows 12% of teachers – 5,782 – left the profession in 2018-19.

The national average is 8%, Boren said.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said what is especially striking is the fact that 44% of teachers quit in their first five years in the classroom from 2016-19.

"That should be a flag to us as a state that we really need to look at investing in new teacher programming and support, and trying to determine what exactly do we need to do so we can retain more of our entry-level teachers," Brumley said.

Brumley said the teacher shortage includes minority educators.

He said Hispanic teachers account for just 2% of the workforce – 878 teachers – and that in any given year the Jefferson Parish School District alone will see an influx of 1,500-2,000 Hispanic students.

"We really need to look at how we can increase the diversity of our teaching work force that more accurately reflects the students that they service," Brumley said.

The Jefferson Parish school system is the largest in the state.

Brumley was superintendent there before he became state superintendent, and figures on how many teachers left the profession are included in a report on his first 100 days in the state job.

The report is available at 

https://www.sreb.org/publication/new-ideas-teacher-compensation?utm_source=Media&utm_campaign=b0f71a810c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_09_30_12_32&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9f3005b291-b0f71a810c-131003561.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.