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Editorial: Sign of better times to come for public school teachers

Last Modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 6:19 PM

A pay increase for public school teachers was a late addition to the state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. While it may not be a significant amount, there were encouraging signs for public school systems that have felt under attack the last couple of years.

Estimates of the raise range in the neighborhood of $575 per year, but it could be more depending on how local school boards divvy up the funding. Half of the $69 million that was appropriated has to be used to give increases to certified personnel, but local boards have discretion over the rest of the money.

The promotion of charter schools and private school vouchers for students in poor-performing schools has come at the expense of public school appropriations that could have been used for pay increases.

Democrats in the state House of Representatives have been long-time public school champions, and they are responsible for getting the $69 million into the fiscal 2013-14 state budget to be used for those raises. And there is a promise that the annual 2.75 percent increases public schools haven’t received since 2008 will once again become annual appropriations.

Members of the state Senate put $50 million into their version of the budget to be used for a one-time teacher and school employee bonus. However, Democrats and members of the Legislative Black Caucus in the House said it was simply a move to drum up support for a budget they didn’t like.

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, pushed the teacher pay increase and the promise of annual increases in public school funding. He said he hoped the $69 million is the start of a renewed state commitment to public school support.

After Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would work to keep up the annual increases, legislators voted for a resolution urging the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to continue the funding increases in years to come.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told The Advocate “2.75 percent is back in the conversation.”

The average teacher pay in Louisiana is $48,185 annually. The Southern Regional Education Board average is $48,475. Average salaries in Southwest Louisiana range from $41,269 in Beauregard Parish to $49,760 in Cameron Parish.

Red River Parish has the highest average salary in the state at $86,314. DeSoto, another parish benefiting from the discovery of oil shale in that part of the state, pays $66,265.

The prospect of getting 2.75 percent annual appropriation increases in coming years means big bucks for public school systems. It has been estimated those systems have lost nearly $1 billion in the past four years because those increases failed to materialize.

The expected teacher raises may not be significant, but those who work in the state’s public schools hope it is a sign of better times to come.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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