Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards last week presented olive branches to a Republican majority bent on sweeping legislation that would limit the ability to sue businesses in hopes of lowering auto insurance premiums and spurring economic development.
And GOP leaders seemed receptive, though they never failed to mention that their overwhelming legislative majorities could for the first time since the early 1990s override a governor’s veto.
While focused on points of agreement in tort reform, Edwards may not have noticed the growing fury of some of his most ardent supporters: schoolteachers.
Edwards’ proposed a $32 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was only about $200 million higher than this year’s. The spending plan has a boatload of money for public education. He wants $40 million more for colleges, universities and TOPS, $65 million more for K-12 schools and $25 million for early childhood education, which will expand access to day care with an educational component for toddlers of working parents.
But in Thursday’s words from the Council for a Better Louisiana, “Perhaps the biggest surprise was the fact that the governor did not explicitly propose a teacher pay raise in the budget.”
In 2018, teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky went on strike for higher pay. In 2019, as Edwards was running for reelection, teachers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and North Carolina staged walk outs. But in Louisiana, many of the 50,000 or so public-school teachers worked to reelect Edwards.
Last year, teachers received a $1,000 pay increase, the first in almost a decade, and a promise from Edwards that their pay would soon reach the regional average.
Edwards framed his comments as aspirational. "I also feel very confident that I will deliver my promise, and that is by the time this term is over our teachers will be at the Southern average," he told The Advocate.
A lot of teachers heard a promise and were expecting another pay bump this year.
"It is a slap in the face to educators all over the state," Rebecca Albert told The Advocate last week. Teachers echoed the comments of the Phys Ed teacher at Walker’s North Corbin Elementary School. Legislators in New Orleans and elsewhere received angry calls.
Teachers are surprised, disappointed and a little irate that Gov. John Bel Edwards omitted a state pay raise for educators in his $32 billion …
Union leaders have the unenviable position of both voicing and tamping down their members outrage. The labor leaders — teachers have two unions and a third association that is not part of organized labor — have been buttonholing reporters and hitting the airways. Tia T. Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, has been the most visible.
“Was this news upsetting? Yes. Should Governor Edwards have made an explicit ask to dedicate dollars for continued increases in educator pay? Most definitely,” Mills wrote in a letter to the editor published Saturday.
A Louisiana teacher makes an average is $50,359 per year compared with $52,178 in the 16-state region, according to 2017-18 tabulations, the latest available. That’s about what a manager at McDonald’s makes. But managers also get cash bonuses, profit-sharing and stock options. Plus, teachers need a college degree. And the average college student graduates with a debt of $29,800.
Relying on public school math, it cost Louisiana taxpayers about $101 million for last year’s raise, meaning another $200 million is needed to bring this state’s teachers up to the regional average of 2018. But that’s a moving target. Texas boosted salaries by up to $9,000. Teacher pay rose by $3,000 in Georgia and $2,000 in Florida, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he wants to push teacher pay to the regional average over the next four years, but education groups aligned with th…
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ chief budget architect, suggested individual school districts could raise teacher pay with $39 million of the additional money recommended for the $3.85 billion public schools’ budget.
“That would be nowhere near enough to fully support a salary increase for our educators,” Mills told WRKF-FM’s “Capitol Access” on Tuesday. “And not to mention that the money that is going to be allocated to those districts, they may very well need that money for their operating budgets.”
The thought of Louisiana teachers joining their brethren in other states on the picket lines seems unlikely after a generation of chipping away at the power of organized labor. Very few teachers showed up on the State Capitol steps in 2012 when Gov. Bobby Jindal was enacting a sweeping overhaul that dramatically changed teacher working conditions without a pay raise.
“A teacher strike would be considered a very last resort. We really would like to have a conversation with the governor and the governor’s office about how we can work together on this,” Mills told Paul Braun of WRKF. “There are a lot of hurt educators across the state. They wanted to know, ‘Why is it we’re not being included? Did he forget about the fact that we supported him?’"