A teacher walkout in East Baton Rouge

A teacher walkout in East Baton Rouge

Teachers and support staff in East Baton Rouge Parish schools have not had an across-the-board pay increase since 2008, and it seems they’ve hit their breaking point.

Number of the Day

69,035  - The number of Louisiana citizen that voted on the first day of early voting; 31,000 more than the first day of early voting in the 2014 midterm elections.  (Source: Louisiana Secretary of State)

Teachers and support staff in East Baton Rouge Parish schools have not had an across-the-board pay increase since 2008, and it seems they’ve hit their breaking point. Several groups of school employees gathered on Tuesday night and voted overwhelmingly to walk out of their schools in protest on Oct. 31, the same day that a state board is expected to take up a series of large property tax exemptions for ExxonMobil under the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. The tax breaks would mean millions less in revenue for East Baton Rouge schools, money that could otherwise be used for employee pay raises. Charles Lussier of The Advocate reports:

The one-day strike is being sparked by opposition to requests by ExxonMobil to obtain an exemption from millions of dollars in local property taxes. The energy giant has four requests it has applied for under new rules for the state’s decades-old Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP, that are set to come before the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry. The vote to walk, 445-6, was taken after several school employee groups gathered at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. No administrators were involved in the vote. East Baton Rouge Parish public schools have almost 6,000 employees, of which about 3,200 are teachers, and about 41,000 students. School administrators and news media were barred from attending the meeting, with the media allowed in afterwards. “In extraordinary times, ordinary people must rise to the occasion and do extraordinary things. That’s what we’re doing tonight,” said Crystal Williams-Gordon, a science teacher at Broadmoor High, reading from a statement.


Louisiana ranks last in pay equity
Louisiana continues to have the nation’s largest gender pay gap, and the Legislature has consistently rejected proposals to ensure equal pay for equal work despite the troubling statistics. A new report by the American Association of University Women highlights the latest data on pay equity and offers solutions to address this persistent problem:

According to [American Community Survey] data, in 2017 the pay gap was smallest in California, where women were paid 89 percent of what men were paid. The largest was in Louisiana, where women were paid 69 percent of what men were paid. … The pay gap follows women throughout their time in the workforce, and even after they leave the workforce. Employers’ use of women’s prior salary history to set their wages in new jobs means wage discrimination carries forward from job to job, compounding over time. And because women typically are paid less than men during working years, women receive less income than men do from Social Security, pensions, and other sources when they retire. (Fischer & Hayes, 2013). Other benefits, such as disability and life insurance, are also smaller for women because these benefits usually are based on earnings.

Taking deliberate steps to create gender pay equity wouldn’t just positively impact working women, but would also give a boost to children, families and the overall economy:

Closing the gender pay gap would have a large impact on women, their families, and the economy. Eliminating the gender pay gap by increasing women’s pay to match that of men of the same age and education level would cut the poverty rate for all working women in half, regardless of their family structure. Closing the gender pay gap would also provide a boost to the economy. Providing equal pay to women would increase the wages paid into the economy by $513 billion, which represents 3 percent of the 2016 gross domestic product (Milli et al., 2017).


LSU admissions debate intensifies
LSU President King Alexander implemented a new “holistic” admissions policy to take into account the different circumstances of applicants to the flagship university this fall. But the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities, doesn’t fully support the change. Which begs the question of who actually has authority to decide how LSU sets its admission criteria? Melinda Deslatte of The Associated Press takes a closer look at the debate:

Alexander’s comments were reminiscent of years-ago disputes among higher education leaders, including disagreements about authority when the Regents set the first statewide college admissions standards in 2001. For first-time students entering this fall, LSU reduced its reliance on standardized test scores and grade point averages. The changes drew criticism and prompted a Regents audit of university admissions across the state to determine if schools are obeying the rules. Speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge last week, Alexander described college admissions criteria as a “recommendation from the Regents,” rather than a requirement. Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed disagreed, citing the board’s constitutional authority: “I don’t think compliance with Regents’ policy is optional.”

Alexander says LSU’s new, well-rounded approach falls in line with what flagship schools are doing in other states:

[LSU President King Alexander] defended the approach as following admissions policies at 80 percent of the nation’s flagship universities and LSU’s freshman class as one of the university’s best-performing groups ever. He cited examples of high-achieving out-of-state students who don’t meet Louisiana’s core curriculum requirements, rural students who only get one opportunity to take the ACT and students whose high school years were disrupted during the 2016 floods as those who deserved consideration outside of the minimum criteria. “We didn’t lower any standards. We just took a closer look at a lot of kids that deserve a little bit closer look because they’re from different circumstances,” Alexander said. “We’re just doing what the rest of the country is doing.”


Wages growing for the one percent
The economy is improving, but the richest Americans are reaping the vast majority of the rewards of economic growth, according to a new report for the Economic Policy Institute. The analysis shows that annual salaries for the richest 1 percent are growing at a far faster rate than the bottom 90 percent. That has been the trend not just since the Great Recession, but for decades, according to the data. Earnings of the top 1 percent have increased by 157 percent since 1979, compared to just 22 percent for the bottom 90 percent. Quentin Fottrell of Market Watch has more on this report:  

The average wage for the top 1% of income earners hit $719,000 per year in 2017, up 3.7% on the year, exceeding their peak of $716,000 per year just before the Great Recession, according to a report released Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive, nonprofit think tank, citing data from the Social Security Administration. The average wage for the top 0.1% reached $2.7 million in 2017, the second-highest level ever, just 4% below their level in 2007. However, wages for the 0.1% rose 8% on the year in 2017. Income inequality has soared in the U.S. over the last five decades, despite increases in worker productivity, the report said. “Incomes for most Americans have been stagnant for four decades,” according to a separate report released earlier this year by the staff of Keith Ellison, a Democratic congressman for Minnesota. “Instead, this increase in income inequality was almost entirely driven by soaring compensation levels for the top 1% of income earners.”

Number of the day
69,035  – The number of Louisiana citizen that voted on the first day of early voting; 31,000 more than the first day of early voting in the 2014 midterm elections.  (Source: Louisiana Secretary of State)