BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push to give Louisiana public schoolteachers a pay raise and school districts their first spending increase in years won support Tuesday from the state’s top school board.
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education backed the K-12 public school financing formula proposed by the Democratic governor for the 2019-20 school year. A final vote will come Wednesday. Then, the formula will move to state lawmakers for consideration.
The $3.8 billion formula includes $140 million in new spending, with $101 million earmarked for raises . Teachers and certificated personnel would receive $1,000 salary hikes, while support staff such as cafeteria workers and bus drivers would get $500 pay increases.
Districts would split $39 million to spend at their own discretion.
Edwards, accompanied by his wife Donna, a former teacher, appeared before the board Tuesday to urge support. The governor called the spending increases “critically important for our state.” He framed the pay raises as helping to address teacher shortages that exist in nearly every subject area and the state’s difficulties recruiting new teachers.
“Teachers are one of the most underappreciated professions,” the governor said. “We ask an awful lot from them, and quite often we don’t provide the resources necessary to support them.”
The average teacher earns $49,745 in Louisiana, according to data. The governor has said that’s about $2,200 less than the Southern regional average. Several education board members and teacher union representatives said they hope additional raises will follow in future years.
“We don’t think it’s enough. Obviously, nobody does. But we think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators union.
Edwards, who is running for re-election with the support of the teachers unions, described the raises as a “down payment” on a multiyear plan aimed at boosting teacher salaries to the regional average.
Most of the board debate centered not on the $101 million in raises, but on the $39 million in unrestricted money that Edwards proposed for school districts.
Superintendent of Education John White recommended $3 million of the money be steered to technical education programs and dual enrollment courses that help high school students earn college credit.
“The need and the evidence that I see in front of us is that every time we give an increase to dual enrollment, more kids sign up,” White said.
Superintendents and other school officials opposed the $3 million earmark, saying they haven’t received new dollars in five years, even as their retirement, health care and other costs continue to rise. They wanted districts to have flexibility to determine how to spend the money.
Education board member Gary Jones, a former superintendent, said rural districts in particular are struggling to meet basic expenses: “Every dollar is critical to them.”
Board members voted 6-3 for a public school financing formula that didn’t include the $3 million earmark sought by White for technical education and dual enrollment programs.