JBE with teachers 052919

Gov. John Bel Edwards joined public school leaders on the south steps of the State Capitol in support of teacher pay.

The Legislature has done something right, and it will be a real benefit to Louisiana teachers.

The adoption of a meaningful, if not huge, pay raise for teachers and school employees is an investment in the future. While there was some to and fro during the legislative process — and when is that ever not the case? — the ultimate decision was bipartisan and achieved a significant goal not only of the Republican legislative leadership but Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The raises will be $1,000 a year for certificated personnel, teachers and principals and the like. Another $500 per year goes to support employees, often low-paid cafeteria workers and aides.

In a key decision that was much-debated, in the State Capitol and out of it this spring, a $39 million increase was allowed in the block grant provided to school systems. We believe that is the right call.

It is only the second time in 10 years that there has been approved and funded what once were annual increases in the main education fund, the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP. The raises, also, are built into the MFP funding formula, so they will be permanent benefits to teachers and school employees.

But they will also be annual costs to the state and benefits to teachers and school employees, as well as the systems. This year, an expanding state economy with generally low unemployment rates has helped to generate new tax revenues, even if — and this is a large failing of this Legislature’s four years — there has been no meaningful update of Louisiana’s out-of-date and inefficient tax system.

Can there be enough growth to sustain the raises and add to them, as Edwards has urged, over several years to keep up with rising teacher pay scales in other states?

That future ought to be a matter of worry for the governor and legislators, even if those seeking reelection this year can say that they’ve done something for public education.

Although we might sound as if we’re taking away the punch bowl just as the party gets going, this raise is not enough. Sustainable support for teachers and schools is a key to Louisiana’s future — and that means that a state raise, however welcome, cannot be the only source of new money.

In Jefferson Parish, home to the state’s largest system, voters approved a significant pay raise for teachers from a new property tax. That is the way that most schools in America are funded and ultimately, as the MFP is a joint state-local formula, it is new local revenues that will have to be passed by local voters to sustain our public education system.

While it’s right to celebrate this year’s accomplishment, more needs to be done.