I'm a teacher. I'm an activist. I'm a union member. And because of this, I'm a realist. So let me begin by being completely honest. I was surprised (and yes, disappointed) by the lack of inclusion of continued pay increases for Louisiana's public school employees in Gov. John Bel Edwards' initial executive budget proposal.
Was this news upsetting? Yes. Should the governor have made an explicit ask to dedicate dollars for continued increases in educator pay? Most definitely, especially since it would have sent a clear message that raising school employee pay continues to be a top priority for him and other state lawmakers.
Regardless of what did or did not occur, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the proposal presented was a preliminary one — one that is many, many steps away from becoming the official operating plan for state spending. From the Revenue Estimating Conference to the state school funding task force to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and finally, to the Louisiana Legislature, the process has just started.
Lawmakers must be intentional in their efforts to place dollars in the state budget for educator salaries. This move is critical to maintaining our education workforce. We need to continue to focus on keeping our best and brightest in Louisiana’s classrooms for Louisiana’s children. We can't afford to lose this tremendous state resource. If Edwards and legislators don't commit to making this an annual priority, Louisiana educators' pay levels will never reach the Southern regional average. There is already a critical shortage for teachers, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the pay here is not competitive with surrounding states.
The 2020 legislative session starts in just a few weeks. It is critical for every person with a vested interest in Louisiana's public schools to put pressure on those individuals involved in the budgeting process — that means state representatives, senators, school board members, and, yes, Governor Edwards. As the leader of the LAE, I pledge my commitment to doing this.
The LAE, as we always have, will be front and center in urging lawmakers to make the appropriate investments in education to ensure all public school teachers and school support workers are honored for their dedication to our state's future. We will not lose sight of what's most important: coming together to fight for the women and men who work tirelessly to educate and support our children.
Tia T. Mills
president, Louisiana Association of Educators