Every Louisiana child deserves a high-quality education, and that can only happen if our public schools are staffed by talented, dedicated, and well-compensated teachers. But Louisiana continues to lag far behind our regional and national peers in teacher pay. As LBP’s Richard Davis Jr. explains in a new blog, the salary increases proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards are a step in the right direction, but aren’t nearly enough at a time when other Southern states are making bigger strides.
For most Louisiana teachers, the proposed $1,500 increase would represent a 3% raise – or less than is needed to keep up with the rising cost of living. Meanwhile, neighboring states such as Alabama and Mississippi are proposing $2,000 to $4,000 increases as they try to reach the Southern regional average of $55,205. By continuing to offer less competitive salaries, Louisiana will increase the likelihood that teachers will either continue to leave the profession or take their talents to where they feel most valued.
Budgeting during a glut
The annual day of public testimony on the state budget usually brings out people and organizations that are hoping to stave off damaging cuts. But this year the focus was different, as a temporary glut of state and federal dollars has prompted many groups to ask for additional funding. The Advocate’s Blake Paterson looks at Louisiana’s EarlySteps program, which serves infants and toddlers with developmental delays and has been beset by numerous rounds of budget cuts since its inception in 2003.
The biggest barrier to enrolling providers is pay. EarlySteps’ rates haven’t increased beyond their 2003 levels. And the program doesn’t offer providers, who often work as private contractors and are required to have a master’s degree, with benefits like insurance. … (Occupational therapist Sherri) Bunch and (Baton Rouge speech therapist Joy) Pennington asked state lawmakers to set aside around $3.1 million in next year’s budget for EarlySteps to give providers and case managers a boost in pay. Lawmakers on Tuesday appeared open to the request.
The bridge tolls for thee
One of the key sticking points in this year’s budget negotiations is whether lawmakers will set aside a $500 million downpayment for a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. The financing plans for the project – expected to cost at least $2 billion – also include tolls. On Tuesday the House Transportation Committee rejected a bill by Rep. Les Farnum that would have banned such user fees. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that business interests advocating for the bridge project won out over truckers who oppose the tolls.
(Transportation Secretary Shawn) Wilson said only 15 or so firms take part in public-private partnerships – an arrangement where a private firm helps finance a project in exchange for a long-term revenue source – tolls. “This would undermine the procurement process,” Wilson said. … Renée Amar, executive director of the (Louisiana Motor Transport Association), said multiple states that have entered into public-private partnerships agreements have seen those firms declare bankruptcy after miscalculating revenue.
Student loan moratorium extended
The federal moratorium on student loan payments – in effect throughout the pandemic – has been a welcome reprieve for millions of people across the country with outstanding student debt. Approximately $37 million borrowers have been spared $195 billion in loan payments since the moratorium started. That relief is scheduled to end on May 1, but as the New York Times’ Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Stacy Cowley report, the White House is expected to announce an extension of the student loan payment freeze until Aug. 31.
The four-month delay means the pause will become an issue again before the midterm elections and remain a rallying cry for student debt activists who have called for Mr. Biden to cancel at least some debt outright. Americans owe $1.6 trillion on federal student loans — more than they owe on car loans, credit cards or any consumer debt other than mortgages. Wisdom Cole, the N.A.A.C.P.’s national director of youth and college, said student loan debt was a “racial and economic justice issue that stains the soul of America.”
For many, the latest extension of student loan payments makes the case for full cancellation of student loan debt. But the White House still hasn’t fully committed to a complete cancellation.
But Mr. Biden has resisted that approach, saying he would prefer for any debt cancellation to happen legislatively. Congressional supporters say they don’t have the votes; a plan to cancel $10,000 in debt for many borrowers passed the House in 2020 as part of its pandemic relief package, then died in the Senate. Even so, the administration continues to dangle the possibility of cancellation. “Joe Biden, right now, is the only president in history where no one’s paid on their student loans for the entirety of his presidency,” Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, said last month on a “Pod Save America” podcast. “The question of whether or not there’s some executive action on student debt forgiveness, when the payments resume, is a decision we’re going to take before the payments resume.”
Number of the Day
41% – Percentage of the Louisianans who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit who work in retail sales or health care – the most common occupations of people who receive the refundable tax credit for low-income workers (Source: American Community Survey via CBPP Program Participation Dashboard)