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. Public school teachers in Louisiana are paid an average of $12,567 below their national peers and $3,639 below the Southern regional average, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. The last time that Louisiana’s average teacher salary was brought to the Southern regional average was in 2007 under then-Governor Kathleen Blanco.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes $148 million to raise K-12 teacher salaries by $1,500 and salaries for support staff by $750. If approved by the Legislature, the raise will be the largest that Louisiana educators have seen in a decade. Yet there remains much room for improvement.
Public schools in Louisiana are making do with fewer teachers and support workers. Overall employment in K-12 schools dropped 6.6% (6,900 workers) between 2019 and 2021, and the number of students seeking to enter the teaching profession has fallen sharply in recent years. Meanwhile, other states are being more aggressive than Louisiana in boosting teacher pay, making it more likely that teachers who train in the Pelican State will pursue their careers elsewhere.
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.
Support staff also lag behind
While certified teachers are at the heart of Louisiana’s public education system, our students cannot learn without the support staff who keep schools operating on a day-to-day basis. Bus drivers, teachers aids, school nutrition workers and custodians are an important part of a healthy and safe learning environment. Unfortunately, most support staff are paid wages that place them below the poverty line.
The administration has suggested that teachers could get an additional $500 raise if a state forecasting panel recognizes additional tax revenue when it meets later this spring. But support staff would still be left with just a $750 raise, unless the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) includes it in the public school funding formula.
If the REC recognizes enough revenue to boost the $1,500 teacher pay raise proposal to $2,000, state legislators should also bump up the $750 support staff pay raise to $1000. While Louisiana would still lag behind the southern regional average, such raises would go a long way in addressing the K-12 employee shortage facing the state and show support workers that they are valued just as much as our certified teachers. Most importantly – it would ensure that these educators are one step closer to being able to comfortably support their families while fulfilling a critical job.
A long way to go
Louisiana has a constitutional requirement to balance its budget each year. This means policymakers have to be cautious when issuing pay raises because they also have to be paid for in future years. But there is no more important investment that we make with our tax dollars than educating the next generation, and that cannot happen without a high-quality teacher in every classroom.
The state cannot tackle its chronic teacher shortage until it pays teachers and support workers enough to make ends meet. While policymakers have made modest progress in recent years to boost teacher pay, it is not nearly enough to make up for almost a decade of stagnation after the Great Recession, and much more is needed. Teacher pay should be the top priority for any new dollars recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference later this spring, and legislators also should consider one-time bonuses for educators and support workers as one possible use of the state’s surplus dollars.