Gov. John Bel Edwards and several legislators have said that pay raises for public school teachers and support workers is a top priority in 2019. But the exact size of that raise is likely to be the subject of heated debate in the coming months – a skirmish that started Wednesday when a state task force began reviewing the annual state funding formula for public schools. Will Sentell of The Advocate was there as educators discussed whether a proposed $1,000 teacher pay raise and smaller $500 support staff pay raise is enough to recruit and retain teachers and offset ever-rising cost of living:
Joni Smith, a Livingston Parish educator and 2017 state Teacher of the Year, said rising health insurance costs mean a $1,000 pay raise “almost wouldn’t help.” “I have been affected by that as a single mother with two kids,” Smith said. “I would love for it (pay raise) to be higher.” … Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, is a member of the task force, like Smith. “Does $1,000 keep up with inflation?” Courville asked the group. He added later in a written statement, “Teachers and support personnel deserve much more than a $1,000 raise. We have to push for more funding.”
Ensuring teacher pay keeps up with the rising cost of living is important, but low teacher pay also hurts the state’s ability to recruit new and qualified teachers.
The teacher crunch goes well beyond math and science, said Doris Voitier, veteran superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District and a member of BESE. “For the first time I am experiencing difficulty in finding elementary teachers,” she said. The number of college students entering teacher preparation programs is also falling, Voitier said.
An ROI on prison reform
Recent criminal justice and prison reform measures have left some extra money in the bank for Louisiana, 70 percent of which will go back into much-needed programming that helps prevent recidivism, rehabilitate prisoners, compensate victims of certain crimes and increase community awareness. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte breaks down some of these programs:
Dollars will pay sheriffs and other local service providers to boost efforts aimed at keeping people leaving prison from returning to crime, such as substance abuse treatment, anger management, educational training, work skills programs, job placement services and transitional housing. Money also will be spent on programs for victims of crime. … For victims’ services, some dollars will pay restitution claims to crime victims. Other money will pay for computer upgrades allowing clerks of court in all 64 Louisiana parishes to access a notification system to alert crime victims when an offender is released from prison or moved. Of the dollars allocated to East Baton Rouge Parish, nearly half will pay to establish a center to aid victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking by connecting them to available counseling and other services.
The middle class needs a (real) break
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was, like most tax cuts, touted as a boon to the middle class. But the vast majority of the benefits are flowing to the richest households and corporations – continuing a decades-long trend that has seen middle-class incomes stagnate while those at the top keep rising. The Brookings Institute’s Isabel V. Sawhill and Christopher Pulliam discuss:
This fact [slow income growth] is made all the more egregious in light of evidence that the middle class isn’t doing well and needs help. Stagnating incomes, opportunity gaps, and fragile families are all reasons to worry about the middle class. Public policy has done little to ameliorate these concerns. After accounting for taxes and transfers, growth in average middle-class household incomes has lagged significantly behind the lowest and, especially, the highest income quintiles. Incomes of the top 20 percent rose by 97 percent from 1979-2014—over twice as much as middle-class incomes. Even the lowest quintile has seen faster income growth, 69 percent, or two thirds higher than income growth for the middle class. In short, both public policy and the economy are leaving the middle class behind.
We must continue to enroll and keep families enrolled in Medicaid
Medicaid expansion is critical to improving health outcomes, and despite being a health insurance program for low-income adults, children and infants benefit from expansion when their parents are insured and have consistent access to health care. To maximize the effectiveness of expansion, states should put policies in place to ensure children and parents enrolled in Medicaid receive the right care at the right time. Elizabeth Wright Burak of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families explains how states can get the most out of Medicaid expansion:
[Early childhood advocates should prioritize] the health care of parents, future parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators as essential contributors to children’s healthy development. Quality of caregiver-child relationships is paramount. An obvious step here is expanding Medicaid to parents in states that have yet to do so (WITHOUT new barriers that undercut access to care, ahem). But it also means making sure all eligible parents are actually enrolled—more than one in four eligible parents nationally is unenrolled.
Ensuring all who are eligible are enrolled in Medicaid will continue to positively impact the health care outcomes in Louisiana, for both children and families. But keeping them enrolled is just as important.
We can’t take coverage itself for granted—it’s not a box to check, ongoing effort makes a difference. Our initial look at 2017 Census data underscores this point: The uninsured rate for children under 6 went up significantly in just one year (2016 to 2017). That’s tens of thousands more young children missing check-ups and screenings. With the majority of uninsured children already eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, it is not time to scale back efforts to ensure all children get signed up and stay enrolled as long as they remain eligible.
Number of the day
$12.2 million – Savings this fiscal year as a result of 2017 criminal justice reforms that have reduced Louisiana’s prison population. (Source: AP)