McDonogh 35 history teacher Donald Hess works with his students. The Louisiana Department of Education will receive about $2.6 billion from the COVID-19 relief package. (Photo courtesy of Donald Hess)
Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed pay raises for K-12 teachers and support staff in the state budget for the second year in a row, and leaders of Louisiana’s teachers unions say it’s a step in the right direction. But they admit it falls well short of what’s needed to address a chronic teacher shortage and the loss of educators to neighboring states that will pay them more.
Edwards included a $1,500 raise for teachers and $750 raise for support staff in the budget he presented to lawmakers this week. If state revenue projections go up again in May – when the Legislature will be in session and hammering out the budget – he wants lawmakers to increase teacher pay even more – by $2,000 annually. The additional $500 increase would cost the state $49 million.
“This will probably be the largest statewide pay raise that teachers and school employees have seen in a long time,” Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said. “As you look at the big picture though, (the raise) still isn’t going to get us to the southern regional average.”
Louisiana teachers currently make about $3,000 less on average than teachers in neighboring states, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. As of February 2021, Louisiana had about 50,000 public school teachers who make a little over $50,000 per year on average.
Louisiana ranks 47th among states and the District of Columbia in teacher pay. That’s ahead of Mississippi (51st) and Arkansas (48th) but behind Texas (26th) and Georgia (18th), according to Business Insider research.
Last year, Louisiana K-12 teachers received an $800 increase in their annual salary while support staff saw a $400 increase.
Carter and Tia Mills, Louisiana Association of Educators president, said lower teacher pay has made it difficult to attract and keep teachers. Educators can go to Texas or Georgia and make about $7,000 more per year.
“We’ve always had teacher shortages but not to the extent that we’ve been seeing over the last two years since (the COVID-19 pandemic),” Carter said.
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Teacher shortages have gotten so bad, Carter said, clerical and custodial staff have had to fill at some schools.
“There have been instances where trying to fill slots have been very difficult by some superintendents and some school districts,” Carter said. “Teachers are just not there.”
Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge), chairman of the upper chamber’s education committee, said he supports the pay raise for K-12 teachers and school staff and agrees that Louisiana needs to pay teachers more competitive salaries to retain its workforce.
“I don’t think we have the luxury of deciding in a cavalier fashion (if) we will or will not support the teachers,” Fields said. “I think we had this point, we have to.”
Fields said he believes his peers in the Louisiana Legislature share the same level of commitment to paying the state’s teachers more.
“My colleagues understand the importance of paying teachers for the work they do,” he said, “and they also understand how other states are attracting teachers out of Louisiana.”
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