Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a plea Tuesday (March 12) to members of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to support a multi-year effort to bring Louisiana’s teacher pay up to the average of the southern regional states.
Edwards asked the Administration and Finance Committee of BESE to support that pay raise process, beginning with a “good faith down payment” by enacting a $1,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers this year. Edwards also asked the committee to endorse a $500 salary hike for school support workers. School employees deserve more money than that, he said, but he stressed the state is going to continue to fall behind in teacher pay if they don’t take any action at all.
“I know that our teachers and our support personnel need and deserve more, but I want you to know this is just a start to get to the southern regional average,” Edwards said.
Salary data from 1989 to 2016 from the Southern Regional Education Board showed an average Louisiana teacher’s average salary was as high as $51,381 in 2012-13. However, their average pay plunged to $49,745 by 2015-16. The average for teachers in the South that year was $50,955, and the national average was $58,363.
The average K-12 Louisiana teacher currently makes anywhere between $40,180 to $49,220 per year, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics in May 2017. Edwards also asked BESE to increase the states’s per pupil funding by 1.375 percent under Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, to fund raises for the 2019-20 school year. The Louisiana Department of Education uses the MFP formula to assign funding to school districts based on enrollment.
Historically, Louisiana has approved a 2.75 percent increase in allocations to the MFP. Even so, the state hasn’t allocated additional dollars into the formula since 2009, according to Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. BESE member-at-large Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard Parish Public Schools, said volatile changes in the economy have harmed Louisiana’s ability to raise MFP funding consistently on an annual basis.
However, Louisiana is estimated to see as much as $300 million in new general state tax revenue projected to be available next year. Edwards, a Democrat seeking a second term and backed by the teacher unions, submitted a budget proposal to lawmakers for the year that begins July 1 that recommends a $140 million spending bump for elementary and secondary education.
Edwards stressed school districts could use the MFP increase to purchase more classroom supplies. Teachers are currently spending their own funds to purchase these supplies, Edwards added.
“It’s overdue, it’s critically necessary and we have this opportunity to move Louisiana forward,” Edwards said. “Show our teachers and support workers we appreciate them and also make sure we’re investing in our children and the future of our state.”
The governor’s comments were lauded by Voitier, who is Edwards’ BESE appointee, and District 4 BESE member Tony Davis, who echoed Edwards’s stance that educators need and deserve more.
Edwards addressed the committee minutes before they discussed two action items on their agenda related to an MFP funding increase. The Minimum Foundation Program Task Force — which includes representatives from the state Legislature, BESE, and the superintendents and school boards associations — also recommended a 1.375 percent per pupil increase in the MFP formula. State Education Superintendent John White instead recommended a 1.25 percent increase in the MFP formula, but he also wanted to dedicate funds specifically to dual enrollment as well as career and technical education programs.
The recommendations spurred a lengthy debate on the merits of funding education, but everyone agreed upon the need to provide more funding to teachers and support staff. Ultimately, the committee voted 6-3 to approve the MFP formula for fiscal year 2019-2020 to include the $1,000 and $500 pay raises, as well as a 1.375 percent increase in the base per pupil amount.
Pending passage of the committee’s action by BESE’s full board tomorrow, the state Education Department will have to submit the proposed MFP formula to the Legislature by March 15, BESE spokesman Kevin Calbert said. The Legislature can approve or reject the formula but not make changes to it, and Calbert added that BESE is requesting the Legislature return the formula to BESE in the event additional funds are approved or changes are desired.
NOLA.com state politics reporter Julia O’Donoghue contributed to this report.
Wilborn P. Nobles III is an education reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @WilNobles.