The key details of a teacher pay raise remained unresolved Tuesday with nine days left in the session, sparking questions on whether a controversial end to the debate could spark a walkout or other job action by teachers.

Education leaders and some lawmakers say that, if the pay raises are for one year only, action by already restive public school teachers is all but certain.

"If it doesn't happen the way it needs to will teachers even come back to school?" asked Shane Riddle, legislative and political director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state's two teacher unions.

Debbie Meaux, president of the LAE, said the only question would be whether the job action took place at the start or end of the 2019-20 school year.

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said teachers would initiate a job action when they return to school in August if the raises are for one year.

The session ends on June 6 at 6 p.m. prompting about 50 teachers and other school personnel to visit the State Capitol on Tuesday to press their case.

The chief dispute, and one of the largest left in the session, is whether the teacher pay raises should become part of the salary schedule or be a onetime event.


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Gov. John Bel Edwards, the state Senate and the state Board of Elementary Secondary Education, favor permanent increases of $1,000 for teachers, $500 for support workers and a $39 million increase for public schools – another House-Senate sticking point.

The House has approved what critics call onetime raises of $1,200 for teachers and $600 for support workers, and no boost for public schools.

But the fact they would not be certain to be recurring, and the modest size of any increase, are seen by teacher groups and their allies as a potential major failing of the two-month session.

The House Education Committee is set to meet on Thursday and take up the Senate-passed resolution that would authorize $1,000 teacher salary increases that the panel earlier rejected.

That measure would direct the money be put in the state's education funding method – called the Minimum Foundation Program – and be part of future state aid.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said whether that plan is now feasible – Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 – is a budget question. "It is not really an education issue anymore," she said.

On Monday night the Senate Finance Committee added the $1,000 and $500 pay raises and a $39 million boost for public schools to the Senate's version of Louisiana's $30 billion operating budget – a sharp contrast to the House version.

The full Senate is expected to approve that measure, with legislative leaders then hammering out differences during the final days of the session.

Landry disputed arguments that the House-backed pay raises would be for one year only, or that its enactment should spark a job action by teachers.

"I can't imagine somebody getting a raise and walking out because of it," she said. "I don't imagine there would be a lot of public support for any group getting a raise and walking out."

Last year a survey by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said 61 percent of those who responded said they would support a teacher walkout if they conclude state and local officials are not doing enough to address education shortcomings.

Teacher pay has been a flashpoint in other states, including walkouts in red states like Oklahoma, Arizona and West Virginia.

Jennifer Molina, who teaches Spanish at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, said a onetime pay boost would have a devastating impact. "Those teachers are going to simply leave the classroom," said Molina, who was at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

Dina Esquinance, who taught at Ponchatoula Junior High School for 26 years, said the $1,000 proposed raises were seen as a start. "We get the stipend for one year and there is no guarantee that will ever come back," said Esquinance, who is president of the Tangipahoa Federation of Teachers, a branch of the LFT.

State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, said Tuesday the House may try to force the Senate-passed resolution out of Landry's committee, and onto the House floor, if the issue is not debated by the House Education Committee.

Pope addressed the House last week and said the version backed by the governor, Senate and BESE deserves attention.

"We need to have an up or down vote on it," he said. 

The lawmaker, who was superintendent of the Livingston Parish School District for 14 years, said he has never been in favor of a job action by teachers.

But he said if teachers land a one-year only pay boost he would not be surprised if some school districts do not start classes on time in the fall.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.