Last week, Governor John Bel Edwards debuted his $32 billion dollar budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Unsurprisingly, the second-term governor’s plan highlighted new investments in education.
The plan includes increases of $40 million to higher education institutions and the TOPS scholarship program, $65 million to the funding formula for K-12 schools and $25 million for early childhood education.
But Edwards is facing criticism for something his plan didn’t include-- a pay increase for public school teachers.
Last year, Louisiana teachers got a $1,000 pay raise, and on the campaign trail Edwards said more was on the way. The change in course isn’t sitting well with the state’s teacher’s unions.
Today, I spoke to the leader of one of those unions, Dr. Tia Mills, President of the Louisiana Association of Educators.
Paul Braun: Were you surprised that Governor Edwards’ plan didn’t outline specific pay raises for teachers?
Tia Mills: We are. The governor placing it in his wish-list would’ve showed that he sees us as a priority. But this is just step one, and we’re hopeful that the negotiations will take place.
Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ top budget advisor, said school districts could raise teacher pay with the additional money the administration would send their way — about $39 million dollars across the spread across state. What’s your reaction to that idea?
That would be nowhere near enough to fully support a salary increase for our educators. And not to mention that the money that is going to be allocated to those districts, they may very well need that money for their operating budgets. I’ve been visiting schools all across this state, and while there are some schools that are in very good shape, there are others who are in dire need of additional assistance.
We need it explicitly placed in the budget that educators are going to receive an additional raise so we can bring it to the southern regional average.
Governor Edwards has said his goal is getting Louisiana’s up to that southern regional average, but that’s a moving target. How are other southern states addressing teacher pay, and is Louisiana at risk of being left behind?
I can very well see that happening. Mississippi, for example, they’re in the process of passing a salary increase for their educators. Texas — when we did a salary increase last year, they went up yet again to make [their average teacher salaries] farther and farther out of reach. And Georgia.
There are a lot of southern states who are increasing their salaries in order to make sure that their educators are receiving a livable wage. And that’s all we want for our educators. They’re the best and brightest in the classroom and we want to keep them there. I really do not want to see educators feel compelled to move to other states because the salaries are more appealing than the one’s we’re offering.
There is a critical shortage across the state and nation for educators, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the pay is not competitive.
There have been some highly-publicized teacher strikes and walkouts across the country over the last few years. Would Louisiana teachers consider a similar action?
A teacher strike would be considered a very last resort. We really would like to have a conversation with the governor and the governor’s office about how we can work together on this.
There are a lot of hurt educators across the state. They wanted to know, "Why is it we’re not being included? Did he forget about the fact that we supported him?" I know that he didn’t. I think he understands the work that was done in order to get him reelected, by the educators in this state. Because they believe in him. They believe in him. And they still do.