Louisiana’s Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed addresses Southeastern Louisiana University graduates at the commencement ceremony, 2018.

Education is an important foundation for children. The classroom is the first place where young minds are introduced to subject matter expertise, relationships, friendships and structure outside of home. Nearly always we trust teachers to be responsible for our kids, asking them to professionally guide them through course curriculum and make them better, and smarter, human beings.

An important aspect often missing is diversity. Because we want our children to learn some specific subject content in an effort to give all kids similar academic standing, we rely on teachers to reflect the communities, neighborhoods and parishes where they teach. Far too often, the teachers in front of these classrooms don’t appropriately reflect the places the students call home.

That’s especially true with black males.

According to data compiled by the Louisiana Department of Education, of the state’s 47,300 public school teachers in 2018, only 2,419 were black men. That's 5%. That’s not acceptable in a state with 309,000 black students. But meeting the standard of providing more black teachers is difficult to do, when not even 30% of the state’s residents have college degrees, and only 11% of black men have a four-year college degree or an advanced degree.

There is not a simple fix. We won’t have more black male teachers without more black male college graduates interested in public-school teaching. The teaching profession is far too important and far too valuable to treat it as just another job. We must encourage black males to do well in school, to go to college and to consider teaching. We must provide the infrastructure to show our confidence and faith in our educational systems, and in black males.

Additionally, a practical issue is teacher pay. The $1,000 raise adopted by the Legislature this year only goes a little way toward the goal of adequate compensation for a profession. The actions of Jefferson Parish voters in raising more local revenues for raises points the way for improving the compensation of teachers. Other parishes should look hard at that example.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed noted the lack of black male teachers, saying, “We have done a poor job of really elevating the teaching profession.” Acknowledgment is a good step. The hard work is ahead, and the gubernatorial candidates, legislative candidates and others should weigh in and tell us, specifically, why they care and what they’ll do about this problem.

Our Views: Good news for Louisiana teachers, but raises also have to come at the local level