group of school kids raising hands in classroom

Across America, teachers have been organizing and striking for higher pay and better working conditions. Just last week in Denver, classes ground to a halt as teachers walked out and demanded an end to the city's "incentive pay" system of bonuses. They also demanded higher wages overall (Colorado ranks among the states with the lowest teacher pay).

The current push for better teacher pay started last year in West Virginia, where teacher pay ranked 48th nationally. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and legislators responded to a call for raises by offering a 2 percent pay increase — less than the rise in the cost of living — prompting teachers across that state to walk out for nine days until they received a 5 percent raise. Their success led to similar strikes in Arizona, Oklahoma and Los Angeles.

There's no immediate threat of a teachers' strike in Louisiana, but raising teacher pay is one of Gov. John Bel Edwards' major legislative aims (and, it must be said, a cornerstone of his re-election campaign). Edwards and other proponents of a statewide teacher pay hike got a boost last week with the release of a report by the Louisiana Budget Project (LBP), which offered solid reasons why the people entrusted with the education of our kids deserve more.

The last major statewide teacher pay increase was more than a decade ago, under then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Working with lawmakers in a bipartisan fashion, Blanco helped raise teacher pay to the southern average. Teachers also got a $1,000 pay hike from Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers in 2008, but overall state funding for teacher pay has been "stagnant" since then, according to the LBP report. Since 2008, tax cuts touted by Jindal and so-called fiscal "conservatives" forced the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to stop giving teachers annual cost-of-living raises that would have kept up with inflation.

Today, Louisiana teacher pay varies widely from parish to parish, but the LPB report says the average compensation is $49,244, more than $2,000 below the southern regional average. Edwards is proposing at least a $1,000 annual pay hike for classroom teachers and a $500 raise for other school personnel, such as cafeteria workers.

So far there doesn't seem to be much opposition to the idea of a teacher pay hike, which likely will be a major topic in the annual legislative session that begins April 8. On the other hand, many Republican lawmakers — particularly in the House of Representatives — are loath to enact anything that might make Edwards look good, even if their intransigence makes them look horrible. It will be interesting to see how the House's "Caucus of No" addresses the obvious need for paying Louisiana's teachers more, especially in this election year.

We hope voters across Louisiana pay close attention to lawmakers' votes on this and other quality-of-life issues, including equal pay for women and raising the state minimum wage. Louisiana doesn't trail other states because we pay higher taxes overall (we don't); we trail because our lawmakers perennially fail to enact policies to improve the lives of the people they are sworn to serve. Remember that in October and November.