Gov. John Bel Edwards met with local teachers and leaders in Lake Charles on Friday to discuss the recently passed teacher and support staff pay raises. The new plan will provide teachers with a $1,000 increase and support staff with an additional $500 in an attempt to get salaries up to the Southern regional average, a mark the state fell behind due to a 10-year stretch without an inflation adjustment, he said.
"It's not enough but it's what we could afford to do this year. It's also what we could all agree upon." Even with the additional revenue, he said, "We'll still be about $1,000 short, so over the coming years I anticipate and will work hard to see that we fully make up that difference so that our schools are not at a disadvantage."
Lack of adequate funding puts a difficult strain on local districts to attract and retain qualified teachers, a burden that is ultimately felt by students, Edwards said. "It's really not the schools, it's the children, right? Even though the pay goes to the adults, the investment is in the children."
The recent session also approved a $39 million Minimum Foundation Program allotment of which 70 percent is legally required to be spent directly on classroom needs.
While morale was overall high and optimistic concerning the raises, those present suggested to Edwards that the MFP funds be used to support measures that help curtail discipline issues like increased mental health services and lower teacher/student ratios, two issues Teri Johnson, Calcasieu Federations of Teachers president, believes attributes to qualified teachers leaving the district.
"Pay is always going to be an issue but when you talk with teachers, oh they're grateful for the money. They really appreciate it! But that's not the first thing that comes out of their mouth," she said, referring to struggles teachers face with behavior, class size and lack of availability for guidance counselors to provide therapeutic services.
"I really believe the mental health of our youth is at risk right now. If counselors had that time, it would decrease discipline issues." As an organization, Johnson said the group will work closely to support district level funding allocations that support such endeavors.