As an elementary school teacher, I expected to experience child-like behaviors from my students. As president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, I did not expect to experience it at the State Capitol from adults.
For the fourth month in a row, economists appointed by both the Democratic governor and the Republican Legislature have agreed that the state should raise the forecast for the budget year that ends June 30. These bipartisan experts agree that the state should expect at least $122 million more this year and at least $67 million for the next budget year. They more than understand the unpredictable nature of an economy as large as Louisiana’s and they both insist that this is a conservative budget forecast with cautious increases.
And yet, for some reason, Louisiana Speaker of the House Taylor Barras remains the lone voice blocking the Revenue Estimating Conference from doing its constitutionally mandated duty in accepting these expert recommendations. The fact is, this is nothing more than political grandstanding. Because of Barras’ vote, Gov. John Bel Edwards is prevented by the state constitution from using this revenue in his executive budget and will have to cut from another budget item to fund his promised pay raise for teachers and school employees.
Last year, teachers in Louisiana were paid 10.8 percent less than what they were paid in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. Only three other states saw a worse decline in teacher pay. Dedicated support staff are vital to the safety and well-being of our kids, but they often have to supplement their income with food stamps and second jobs to provide for their own families. The only way to protect our dedicated educators from these types of political games is for their raises to be included in the executive budget on Friday.
We need a legitimate raise this session so that we can reach the Southern Regional Education Board average in the next two years, and have a realistic plan to keep us there, or higher. Many remember the over $2,300 raise teachers received in 2007 and many educators are questioning why they cannot receive a $3,000 increase this year. In 2006-2007, Louisiana had a budget surplus of $1 billion. Even if the REC recognized the disputed estimated revenue tomorrow, it would only generate $122 million. Those advocating for a large, one-time raise need to brush up their math skills and talk to educators who want a stable, annual raise. This would ensure a salary that is in line with teacher pay across the south and eventually the nation — not limited to one raise every decade.
A candid discussion is required. This isn’t a game. Every day, we’re losing talented teachers, and our kids are paying the price. There are hundreds of vacant positions in school districts throughout the state because we simply can’t recruit or retain the talent we need; there are too many higher-paying options in other states or other industries, and by the laws of supply and demand, Louisiana public schools can’t compete.
It is time to make our children’s future a priority. Louisiana needs to work together to invest in the future of our state, our communities, and our children by investing in public education. It is the right thing to do for our students.
Larry Carter is president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.