Clearly Governor Edwards, in his Executive Budget, stabbed his oldest allies, the teachers, right in the back. That being said, it does call to attention a great shortcoming in our system of school governance.
This is a remarkably complicated issue, made much more so by social populists that have dominated our state for a hundred years. Let me start with this, teachers are not state employees and never have been. Teachers are employees of the local school districts and therefore their pay level should be determined by the district and by their performance. Further, the funding necessary to pay teachers should largely be raised locally by those districts.
Oh, the school boards always say, the state has loaded them up with mandates and therefore the state should pay more and more. But what are those mandates; the requirement to have a pension, the requirement to have healthcare, and many other “mandates” on educational outcomes and standards. I have news, every school district in this nation has the same costs, whether they are mandated or not.
There may be some argument that the state’s pension system was underfunded for a long time, but that cost only represents a portion of the cost. For decades school boards have used this red herring to justify their trek to the Capital to beg for money, so they don’t have to go to voters. Yet in my 12 years in the Senate, no one could ever answer my question: how much does this really cost?
I suspect that the answer would be inconvenient so it is never answered.
So along comes a liberal governor who promises that when he re-elected, he will provide a state-funded teacher pay raise. Not surprisingly, though, in his first budget of the new session he reneged on his promise to teachers (he is term limited so to him any phony promises made before the election were justified as the means to his end). But as bad as was his treachery to his erstwhile friends this session, his actions last session were even worse. By pushing a pay raise with no accountability for better outcomes, he perpetuated the age-old school board practice of running to Baton Rouge for money instead of justifying their performance when they should instead go to taxpayers for a tax increase, or prioritizing the pay of quality teachers within their existing budgets.
Under our system of governance, whether teachers need a raise, how much, and how it would be funded are supposed to be in the purview of the school district. There is no way it is good practice for the state to constantly step into the shoes of the school boards, especially to repay the governor’s political debt. The school boards want autonomy, but with autonomy must come accountability. And the only real accountability is when the school board must go the people for whatever funding it needs.
Though among conservative circles it is all in vogue, there should be a vigorous debate over the value of a system in which so much responsibility resides with local school boards yet so much funding comes from the state. I would point out that at least in Louisiana it has not worked very well. In no way should we grant autonomy to school boards and at the same time relieve them of the accountability of having to justify their actions or lack of actions to voters by just sending them more and more state money.
I am not in any way commenting on the importance of or the amount of a teacher pay raise. I am commenting on a system that has served school boards and governors very well but has failed children. In my estimation accountability is critical and the strongest measure of accountability resides with voters.