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Landry isn’t backing a permanent teacher pay raise, confirming educators ‘worst fear’

Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La. (Michael Johnson/The Advocate via AP, Pool)
Michael Johnson/AP
Pool The Advocate
Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Gov. Jeff Landry doesn’t want to make a public school teacher pay hike from last year permanent, frustrating teachers who have been pushing for the pay bump since early 2023.

“Of course, our worst fear came through,” said Cynthia Posey, legislative director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “It’s really devastating to a profession where people are paid so much less than others with college degrees.”

Landry’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year includes $198 million for a second round of stipends for teacher and school support staff, instead of permanent salary increases.

It’s the same amount used to give across-the-board stipends of $2,000 for teachers and $1,000 for school support staff last year. But the governor wants to put the money toward rewarding a smaller group of high-performing teachers and those in hard-to-fill positions like science, math and special education slots.

Under Landry’s proposal, some teachers would likely receive more money than they made this year, and others would likely receive less. In all cases, the pay hike wouldn’t be permanent or factored into retirement benefits.

In fact, Landry might eliminate the additional teacher pay altogether in 2025. The state expects to face a $560 million budget gap that year, thanks to an automatic reduction in the state’s sales tax rate and the return of numerous tax breaks.

The governor opposed a permanent teacher pay raise, in part because it would be difficult to remove in the future when the state is coping with deficits, according to his budget staff. Once a pay raise becomes part of a teacher’s official compensation, it is legally protected and isn’t easy to undo.

But the uncertainty around teacher pay is frustrating for educators.

“How are they going to plan to buy a home when they don’t know what their salary is going to be?” Posey said. “Why would anyone go into teaching?”

Louisiana lags its neighbors when it comes to teacher compensation, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. The state’s average teacher salary for the 2021-2022 school year was $52,376 while the southern average was $56,309. Since then, other Southern states have also given larger teacher pay increases than Louisiana, which means the pay gap likely widened.

Last year, lawmakers reached a consensus on a $2,000 raise for teachers and $1,000 increase for school support staff, but disagreements over the state school funding formula ended up converting that pay bump into a stipend.

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the pay increases, but also included $61 million in “differential pay” in the funding formula it passed. The “differential pay” was supposed to provide extra money to high-performing teachers and those in hard-to-fill positions.

The legislature can only legally accept the state school board’s funding formula as a whole, and lawmakers decided not to go along with the “differential pay” part of the proposal. Instead, they put that funding toward early childhood education, which required them to scrap the formula with the teacher raises.

“Republicans played politics with the state budget, leading to a one-time stipend for teachers, not a permanent pay raise,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, in a written statement released last week.

In 2023, legislators tried to assure teachers they would make the stipend into a permanent pay raise this coming year.

The Louisiana House passed a resolution 99-2 sponsored by then-Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, requesting the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education help make the increase into a permanent raise this spring. The state school board is expected to take up the teacher compensation for a vote in early March.

Lawmakers also recently expressed concern over Landry’s teacher pay proposal.

“There is no reason to alienate teachers this early on,” said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, who worked in teaching for more than four decades. “There are a lot of public school teachers in the state – both retired and still working.”