The governor said he wants teachers to be paid $1,000 more annually and school support staff — bus drivers, custodians, classroom aides and secretaries — to get $500 more per year. “It has been a long time since we did this. We have to do this,” said Edwards of pay raises during his monthly radio show aired around the state.
The total package would cost Louisiana $114 million during the 2019-2020 budget cycle, according to the governor’s staff. Edwards’ plan to increase pay is based on the state having an increase in revenue projections by the end of 2018, said Richard Carbo, the governor’s spokesman. The governor is not proposing a new form of revenue — such as a tax — to cover the pay bump.
Louisiana teachers are being paid, on average, less than the average teacher’s salary in Southern states. For the 2015-2016 school year, Louisiana teachers were paid an average of $49,745 per year and teachers in Southern states were paid an average of $50,955 per year, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. The governor’s staff said the gap has become even larger — with Louisiana teachers making $2,200 less on average than other Southern teachers — recently.
The $1,000 raise for teachers won’t help Louisiana reach the Southern regional average in 2019, but Edwards is hoping Louisiana will increase teacher pay for two or three years in a row to be on par with other Southern states, according to Carbo.
Teacher pay raises appear to have widespread support across state government. State Education Superintendent John White told WRKF’s Jim Engster on August 16 that a pay increase for teachers “has to happen now.” Edwards also said he has met with the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on the subject as well.
Several conservative members of the Legislature are on board with raising teacher pay, even those that don’t typically agree with Edwards. “Everybody believes that our teachers need to be paid adequately when compared to their counterparts in other states,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.
That doesn’t mean that the specifics of Edwards’ proposal have been fully embraced. Lawmakers have different ideas of how much salaries should be increased and who should be included in the pay bump. Not everyone believes that bus drivers and other support staff, for example, need a pay increase. Some legislators also hope that the salary hike can be even higher than what’s been discussed.
“I’m hoping we can do even more than he is proposing,” said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, of teacher raises.
Edwards is likely under some pressure to do something for teachers — arguably his most loyal political constituency. Teachers, especially teachers unions, were essential to the governor winning his 2015 election.
They backed Edwards when other left-leaning organizations were considering endorsing moderate Republican candidates over Edwards, a Democrat, because they thought the Republicans had a better chance of winning the governor’s race.
As a legislator, Edwards was closely aligned with teachers unions. His wife, Donna Edwards, was a longtime public school teacher and Edwards was often a vocal opponent of “school choice” policies, particularly publicly-funded vouchers for private education and unfettered expansion of charter schools.
One of Edwards’ last acts as a state representative was to get an additional $36 million for public schools — specifically for teachers’ salaries — included in the state budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal cycle. He leveraged his role as head of the House Democratic Caucus to negotiate that funding increase during budget negotiations between the House and Senate that year.
Increasing teachers’ salaries has also become a hot issue across the country. Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma went on strike in order to get pay raises from their state governments. The Louisiana Association of Educators isn’t planning any sort of “job action” currently, but they “don’t want to rule anything out either,” said Deborah Meaux, the union’s president, on Wednesday.