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Gov. John Bel Edwards has pledged to get teacher salaries to the regional average before he leaves office, and today's gap is nearing $4,000.

A new survey shows average teacher pay in Louisiana is 12th of 16 states in the South, which raises doubts on whether Gov. John Bel Edwards will deliver on his pledge to get salaries to the regional average by the time he leaves office in 2024.

Teachers here were paid an average of $51,566 during the 2019-20 school year, according to a report by the Southern Regional Education Board. The regional average is $55,205.

The U.S. average is $64,133, the report says.

Edwards has repeatedly said he intends to get teacher salaries to the regional average by the end of his second term in January 2024.

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The latest survey comes at a time when the shortage of teachers in Louisiana and nationally is worsening.

Retirements and fewer teachers entering the profession have made it hard for school leaders to fill classroom openings, and not only in the traditionally hard to fill jobs like special education, math and science.

Teacher pay in Louisiana rose by $800 annually this year, which was double Edwards' initial proposal for a $400 raise.

Edwards was backed by the state's two teacher unions in his 2015 and 2019 bids for governor.

Tia Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the Edwards administration has done everything possible for the state to reach the regional average. "Unfortunately it is a moving target," Mills said.

"Unless we make education a priority by paying the educators we have so we can recruit additional educators we are going to continue to see the losses we are seeing," she added.

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, noted teachers have twice won pay raises under Edwards after going about a decade without one.

"We do have to give him some credit for that but it is not enough," Carter said Tuesday.

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The raise totaled $1,000 in 2019.

After years of trying, the state reached the regional average for teacher pay in 2007 when salaries rose by $2,375 per year under then Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Carter said pay hikes in Louisiana have averaged around 2.5% in recent years compared to 4.5% in other states.

"It is not just reaching the southern average," Carter said. "It is about staying there and then exceeding the southern average."

The governor has regular sessions in 2022 and 2023, and any special sessions, to try to boost teacher pay to the regional average. However, his lame duck status will gradually reduce his clout with the GOP-controlled Legislature and complicate any such effort.

The 2022 regular session starts on March 14.

Senate Education Committee Chair Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, said Tuesday he is ready to help the governor boost pay to the SREB benchmark.

"At the end of the day I don't know how realistic it is," Fields said of doing so before Edwards leaves office.

The lawmaker also said he is drafting legislation for the 2022 regular session aimed at getting more teachers into the profession.

"Students view education as a field that is not valued," he said. "We have to pay teachers for the work they do."

The latest survey means teachers here are paid more than those in just four other states: Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas and West Virginia.

Maryland tops the 16-state list with an average of $73,444.

The report says the average starting pay for teachers in Louisiana is $41,747 and the average top pay $57,620.

Louisiana is getting $4 billion from the federal government to help address learning loss triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

But 90% of that money is going to local school districts and is not intended for recurring expenses, like salaries.

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