Tentative agreement reached on teacher pay raises

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 1:01 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana lawmakers have reached a tentative agreement to give public school teachers and other school staff a $2,000 and $1,000 annual raise respectively, legislators across the political spectrum confirmed this week, the Louisiana Illuminator reports.

House Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said the conservative House members he leads are now in favor of putting a teacher pay raise directly into the budget. Senate leaders in both political parties also confirmed that the issue of the pay raise had been tentatively settled.

The $2,000 and $1,000 raises are not as high as Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted to go. As late as Friday morning, Edwards was pushing for $3,000 pay increases for teachers and $1,500 for school staff during a press conference.

The governor said it was important Louisiana get as close as possible to the regional average in teacher pay for 16 southern states, but that goal seems out of reach. Louisiana’s average teacher pay for the 2021-2022 school year was $52,376, and the southern regional average was $56,309 for that same period. Since then, other southern states have given larger teacher pay increases than Louisiana, which means that pay gap may have widened.

Still, the Louisiana House’s initial budget passed earlier this month included no teacher pay raises at all, so the $2,000 increase might be interpreted as a win for rank-and-file educators.

The House had proposed paying off local school system teacher retirement debt instead of including a direct pay raise in the state spending plan. House members hoped that paying down the school system’s debt early would free up enough money for school districts to give out pay raises at the local level.

Louisiana teacher unions opposed that scheme, saying there was no guarantee school systems would hand out a permanent raise. Senators in both political parties were also wary that school districts would benefit in an uneven manner. Some school systems might end up with more money available than others if the early retirement debt payments were made.

Geymann said conservative House members were willing to compromise on the teacher pay increase and back off their proposal to pay off retirement debt early, but they are still unwilling to busting through the state’s spending cap. Their opposition is complicating negotiations between the House, Senate and governor for the budget year that starts July 1.

By law, state lawmakers cannot exceed the state’s spending cap set annually without two-thirds of the members of each chamber voting to raise that limit. The governor and senators are in favor of removing that restriction, but it’s not clear enough House members would vote to raise the cap at this point.

If legislators decline to breach the spending limit, they will significantly limit their ability to spend money on construction for roads, bridges, university buildings and coastal restoration. Louisiana has an unprecedented amount of money available, but the spending cap puts hundreds of millions of those public dollars out of reach if it remains in place.

Geymann and other House conservatives generally oppose large increases in government spending and are trying to rally fellow House Republicans to vote against removing the cap. They have taken to wearing lapel pins with the number “36″ — the number of House votes they need to block the spending limit from being raised.

The House conservatives believe the money would be put to better use if it was saved for future budget cycles when the state expects a drop in revenue. Legislators have voted to automatically cut the state sales tax in 2025, which is expected to cause a shortfall in state funding.

The governor and senators argue the state’s extra revenue is better spent on construction projects now because building expenses will likely rise in future years and Louisiana has billions of dollars of needs in transportation infrastructure and on college campuses.

But including a teacher pay raise in the state budget plan will make it even harder to fund state construction projects for roads, bridges, universities, and coastal restoration if the salary cap isn’t removed. The teacher and school staff salary increase will cost the state $200 million next year, squeezing out available money for building projects if the spending limit isn’t breached.

The Senate, House, and governor are running out of time to reach an agreement. Louisiana’s spending plan is supposed to be in place before lawmakers adjourn on the evening of June 8.

If they fail to come to a compromise by then, the legislators will have to come back into a special session later in June — and will face an even higher political hurdle to clear. In a special session, three-quarters of members in the House and Senate would have to agree to a budget plan.

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