When Gov. John Bel Edwards stepped forward for a teacher pay raise to be included in the new budget, he was surely embracing a popular idea in an election year. But we agree with him and with key legislative leaders of both parties that a teacher pay raise is a good idea.
The public seems to agree as well.
The Louisiana Survey by researchers at LSU showed 88 percent of poll respondents backed a teacher pay raise. It’s a heartening endorsement from the public about the hard work that teachers put in, even — or perhaps especially — in a state where educational attainment is not as strong as it should be.
But a key point was raised in the Louisiana Survey. “These results show very strong, nearly unanimous, support for public school teachers and an appetite for pay increases ... however, there is more partisan division on whether the state should raise taxes to fund a pay increase for public school teachers,” Michael Henderson, director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, said.
Not surprisingly, when the costs of the pay raise are put front and center, more voters have concerns. And it turns out, legislators also tend to flinch when it comes down to the Benjamins, as a budget issue must inevitably do.
Differences between the governor and the more conservative leadership of the state House highlight the funding issue. Edwards’ proposal is for a pay raise for both teachers and support workers, at $1,000 for “certificated” staff and $500 for aides and lunchroom workers and the like. The money is available in the budget forecast for the new year, so no new taxes are required.
Raises would go directly to the recipients, not to school boards. Edwards also included a 1.375 percent increase in the funding formula for school systems, seemingly a modest adjustment. But that is a small percentage of a big program, probably costing $39 million more than the $100 million-plus for direct raises.
The problem is that school boards just aren’t as popular as teachers, and some legislators are likely to question aiding the systems. An alternative Republican budget in the House left out the school systems’ money.
The pay raises, across the board as they are, also include costs for the systems, particularly in health care and other fringe benefits. Those items are high costs, and schools have costs beyond salaries.
While we understand the concern about the structure of this pay raise proposal, and look forward to alternative ideas that might work, leaving the systems’ funding out perpetuates the old Louisiana expedient of worrying tomorrow about the costs we’re accruing today.
A pay raise for teachers is good, but legislators should make it a workmanlike proposal that won’t unnecessarily burden taxpayers down the road because of other costs to schools.
In case anyone watching Gov. John Bel Edwards deliver his legislative session-opening speech Monday didn’t notice how much the fall elections …