While Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed a $1,000 pay raise for public school teachers, early battle lines started forming Wednesday on whether the increase should be bigger and who it should include.
Joni Smith, a Livingston Parish educator and 2017 state Teacher of the Year, said rising health insurance costs mean a $1,000 pay raise "almost wouldn't help."
"I have been affected by that as a single mother with two kids," Smith said. "I would love for it (pay raise) to be higher."
How teachers and other school employees have fared in the past decade was one of the key topics during a 90-minute meeting of the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force, which advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
About 60 percent of teachers surveyed said they favor a statewide walkout or strike to land a "significant" pay raise, leaders of the Louisian…
The MFP is the state's funding mechanism for public schools, and would be the key source of financing for teacher raises.
The panel includes a wide swath of influential education officials who will be involved in the upcoming debate – teacher unions, school board leaders, superintendents, BESE members and lawmakers.
Edwards said on Sept. 8 that he plans to recommend to the Legislature that pay for teachers and others be raised by $1,000 per year in 2019, an election year.
Amid teacher unrest and a widening pay gap with other states, Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to recommend an election-year salary increase of at …
The governor also wants to boost pay for cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and other support workers by $500 annually. Edwards said his plan would cost the state $114 million per year.
Public school teachers last got an across-the-board pay raise – $1,019 – a decade ago. They have since gotten modest pay bumps three times, including one-time stipends.
Support workers last got an across-the-board pay raise– $1,000 – in 2007.
Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, is a member of the task force, like Smith.
"Does $1,000 keep up with inflation?" Courville asked the group.
He added later in a written statement, "Teachers and support personnel deserve much more than a $1,000 raise. We have to push for more funding."
Louisiana has 48,749 public school teachers, according to figures provided Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
Another 38,749 workers drive school buses and serve as aides, clerical workers and skilled craftsmen.
After years of state efforts average teacher pay reached the regional average in 2008.
It fell below that benchmark in 2012 amid state budget problems.
Average public school teacher salaries in Louisiana finally reached the regional average in 2007, a breakthrough that was celebrated by politi…
Today the average, as defined by the Southern Regional Education Board, is $50,955 per year, according to the latest estimate.
Teacher pay in Louisiana averages $49,745.
Whether any pay hike should target areas of critical shortages – including math, science and special education teachers – is also entering the debate.
Debra Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, said the public needs to know the problem of teacher vacancies and uncertified teachers in the classroom.
"I think those numbers are greater than people realize," said Schum, another task force member.
State figures show that 8 percent of math teachers and 7 percent of science teachers are uncertified.
Another 10 percent and 13 percent respectively are teaching outside their fields.
The three school districts with the lowest average salaries also have the highest rates of uncertified and out-of-field teachers – over 25 percent in each district, according to department figures.
"It is fair to say we have a teacher shortage in Louisiana right now," state Superintendent of Education John White said.
State Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday morning salaries for public school teachers need to be raised.
The teacher crunch goes well beyond math and science, said Doris Voitier, veteran superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District and a member of BESE.
"For the first time I am experiencing difficulty in finding elementary teachers," she said.
The number of college students entering teacher preparation programs is also falling, Voitier said.
"It's shocking," she said.
Smith said teacher salaries pose a major hurdle when she encourages students to enter the profession.
"The first thing they say to me is 'I can't be an educator because it won't pay the bills,'" she recalled.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators and a task force member, said earlier her group favors pay raises of at least $100 per month – $1,200 annually.
Whether pay hikes that exceed the governor's plan are feasible will depend in part on the state's financial outlook.
Donald Songy, education policy adviser for Edwards, said the administration expects to have a better idea of that in December.
The 2019 regular legislative session begins April 8.