Will Louisiana teachers get raises? Republican lawmakers aren't yet onboard

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Fewer people are choosing teaching as careers as enrollment in education programs at Louisiana's public colleges has fallen by about 8,000 students in the last 20 years.
Fewer people are choosing teaching as careers as enrollment in education programs at Louisiana's public colleges has fallen by about 8,000 students in the last 20 years.

Republican leaders in the Louisiana Legislature, especially in the House, aren't yet onboard with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' proposal for teacher pay raises.

Louisiana's revenue is projected to increase by nearly $800 million for the 2023 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Edwards is asking lawmakers to give teachers a $1,500 raise and support workers a $750 raise at a cost of about $150 million per year.

Though Republicans say teachers deserve a raise, they question whether the state can afford it long term. GOP lawmakers dominate the Legislature with near super majorities in both the House and Senate.

"We value our teachers and would like to see their pay reach the southern regional average, but we want to be fiscally responsible, and many believe it would be irresponsible to give them a $1,500 raise with what we're facing down the road," said GOP Winnfield Rep. Jack McFarland, chairman of the Conservative Caucus.

McFarland and others said while the state is flush with cash now, a cliff awaits in 2025 when a temporary 0.45-cent sales tax that generates more than $400 million expires and $300 million from the vehicle sales tax is diverted from the general fund to infrastructure projects.

More: Louisiana governor proposes teacher raises, new bridges, higher education budget increases

"Historically, the Legislature has spent money like drunken sailors," said GOP Erath Rep. Blake Miguez, chairman of the 68-member Republican House Caucus. "Are we going to take the lock off the liquor cabinet again?"

Louisiana teachers earn an average of $51,566, which is 12th out of 16 southern states and below the $55,205 southern regional average. The U.S. average for teacher pay is $64,133.

The Legislature granted a $1,000 teacher raise in 2019, the first in a decade, and an $800 teacher raise last year.

"We know we can afford a teacher pay raise this year, but can we afford it in the years to come?" said Miguez, whose wife is a public school teacher.

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales issued a statement shortly after Edwards' budget proposal presentation to the Joint Budget Committee this week.

More: Louisiana poised to provide free community college for adults in high demand careers

"Without a doubt, our teachers deserve more,” he said. "However, before we can commit to a pay raise, we need to ensure we have the necessary recurring revenue to ensure this is a permanent raise and that we are not misleading them with a one-time bonus.”

Once a pay raise is issued, it can't be taken back, though the Legislature could grant one-time teacher bonuses this year as an alternative to a permanent raise. It could also grant a smaller raise than the governor wants.

Those are both options that McFarland favors over a $1,500 raise.

"I think we're all in favor of doing something for our teachers; it's a matter of what we can afford," McFarland said.

Republican Houma Rep. Jerome "Zee" Zeringue, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that crafts the budget, echoed concerns of other GOP members who refer back to budget crises created a decade after Hurricane Katrina when a flood of federal funding dried up.

Zeringue believes the current state revenue boon is also artificially inflated by federal relief funding from the COVID pandemic and federal disaster aid from a cluster of crippling hurricanes like Ida in 2021 and Laura in 2020.

"Obviously the money is there now, but it's a false narrative to assume it will be sustainable into the future," Zeringue said.

Democrats, meanwhile, are unified behind Edwards' proposal, though they don't have the votes to get it done without Republican support when the Legislature convenes March 14 for its three-month Regular Session.

"The bottom line is the money is there now for teacher pay raises," said Shreveport Rep. Sam Jenkins, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "If not now, when? Our economy is showing amazing resilience and we believe it will continue to grow in the future."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana Republican lawmakers resist commitment to teacher pay raises

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting