Everybody Understands That JBE’s Teacher Pay Raise Demand Is A Union Payoff, Right?

Just so we’re all on the same page here, it’s important that we all recognize Louisiana’s governor isn’t remotely as interested in giving Louisiana’s teachers a break as he is in providing a deliverable to the two teacher unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, for having backed him for election.

If you refuse to admit this, you’re not being honest.

Governor John Bel Edwards will push for teacher salary increases during the 2019 regular session, officials confirmed to WAFB Monday.

Louisiana teachers have not received a pay raise since 2013. Since then, the state has fallen about $1,000 behind its regional competitors.

In 2016, the average American teacher made a little over $58,000 per year, while Louisiana teachers made around $49,000.

“It’s time for our teachers to get a raise,” Edwards told reporters Friday. “My number one priority next year is making sure we increase our investment in K-12 education.”

The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Richard Carbo, says Edwards wants to give teachers at least a $1,000 raise for the year to bring the state close to the regional average. He noted the governor will not set a target amount until the Revenue Estimating Conference releases a forecast for the state’s economy next year.

The raise would be funded through state general fund appropriations. Lawmakers are hoping steady economic growth will continue, giving the state more spending money.

Proponents for pay increases argue that higher wages could attract teachers from other states or help to retain Louisiana’s best instructors.

Let’s understand that if John Bel Edwards actually wanted to help the standard of living of Louisiana’s teachers what he could have done was cut the state’s budget so that the Trump tax cuts could have fully impacted individuals in the state. Instead, Edwards pocketed some $300 million in state income taxes which opened up thanks to a change in the federal tax laws. Other states moved that money into their economies; not us. And because we didn’t, not only didn’t the teachers get an income tax break they might have liked to have, but the rest of us didn’t get a tax break we might have used to buy things and thus generate local sales tax revenues which could have been used to increase local school board budgets – from which teachers might have gotten a pay raise.

Because after all, public school teachers don’t work for the state of Louisiana. They work for those local school boards. And it should be up to those local school boards to decide on their salaries, rather than John Bel Edwards. We all know that the state plays too large a role in the relationship between it and local governments, and giving a state-funded teacher pay raise only makes that problem worse.

How much would it cost to give a $1,000 pay raise to the state’s public school teachers? By our calculations, about $57 million. Edwards expects that he’ll have that to spend thanks to jacking up Louisiana’s state sales tax by 0.45 cents in this year’s final special session, and he might well be right. For now. They’re expecting a sizable surplus thanks to that tax hike, but the problem is Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid in Louisiana is akin to a blob, expanding as it eats away at the state’s treasury to the tune of at least $100 million per year in cost increases. Any money available to pay for teacher raises will be fleeting at best if Louisiana’s economy doesn’t start booming – and why would it given this governor’s policies and the state’s business and legal climate?

Not to mention the quality of its workforce. Let’s not forget that our schools rank in the bottom 10 nationally on educational outcomes, despite constant efforts at reform. We rank in the middle of the pack nationally in per-student K-12 spending, and yet we’re toward the bottom in results. Perhaps we’re delinquent in offering pay increases – but to be fair, we didn’t see much of a return on our investment with the last major round of teacher pay increases.

And as it happens, the unions aren’t even satisfied with a $1,000 pay bump. They want a lot more than that.

Teachers unions are responding to Governor John Bel Edwards’ backing of a $1,000 pay raise for teachers, and a $500 pay raise for support personnel. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers says it’s not enough.

LFT spokesman Les Landon says it would take a raise of $1,850 to get Louisiana  educators back to the regional average — a mark he says is too low to begin with.

“The last time there was a significant pay raise was in 2007, which was a $2,300 pay raise for teachers and a $1,000 pay raise for para-professionals, and that’s probably a good place to start the conversation,” said Landon.

LFT President Larry Carter expressed support for a two to three year plan to obtain a $2,200 raise. The LFT is also calling for increased salaries for support workers and higher funding for public education.

A $1,850 raise, or 3.65 percent, would cost the state $105 million a year. Including all support personnel such as cafeteria workers and principles would increase the price up to $170 million a year.

Landon says while $1,000 would be appreciated, it wouldn’t be enough to substantially effect teachers’ quality of life. He says teachers’ chronically low pay is the reason why the state is facing a budding educator shortage.

“Nobody is going to turn down a $1,000 pay raise, but that would not be enough to stem the outflow of teachers,” Landon insisted.

Landon says a recent survey of his organization indicated widespread support for a potential strike if teachers do not receive an adequate pay bump and public schools do not receive increased funding.

Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux says her organization is seeking a $1,200-a-year raise for teachers, as well the establishment of living wages for support personnel. Meaux says the decade long decline in teacher quality of life has many looking to leave the profession.

“They are looking for at least the ability to provide for their families, and maintain that middle class status that is very quickly being eroded away,” she said.

Here’s what everybody also knows but nobody will say – the minute that pay increase comes through the teacher unions are going to raise their dues. What this is about is using taxpayer dollars to increase teacher union funding, and we all know what those teacher unions use their money on.

They use it on campaign contributions to Democrat politicians. John Bel Edwards being at the top of that list.

Talk to your state representative or senator about this, and what you’re going to likely hear is they think it’s going to be awfully hard to oppose a teacher pay raise in an election year next year. And they’re probably right.

But as we’ve discussed before, it’s long past time that Republicans in the Louisiana legislature start making demands of their own in return for giving Edwards and his special-interest constituents the treats from the state larder they want.

And in this case, the counter-demand should be pretty obvious – namely, that if Edwards is to get his teacher pay raise, then he’s going to have to swallow a paycheck protection bill attached to it so that the state no longer automatically deducts union dues from teacher salaries. Let the unions collect those dues on their own steam, and we’ll see how many teachers even bother with membership. Or, if they’re not bold enough to do that, then bar any increase in the amount of state deductions to those unions; if LAE and LFT want to raise their dues, they’ll have to collect the increase themselves.

What should be a complete dealbreaker for the state’s Republican legislative majorities is any teacher pay raise bill which facilitates increased union dues. In a better world the idea of the state paying for local employees to get a raise should also be a dealbreaker, but that might be too much to ask for now.

Edwards needs to be made to sacrifice something to get this demand. He needs to, with his own actions, answer the question whether he’s really in this for the teachers or if he’s just paying off his union pals. We’re pretty sure it’s the latter, and if he’s put to the question he’ll prove it.

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