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Not all Louisiana teachers have received their $2,000 stipend yet, union says

Aubri Juhasz
Kindergarteners participate in music class at Young Audiences Charter School on March 21, 2022.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Not every Louisiana public school teacher and support employee who expected to receive a pay hike this year has received the extra money.

Legislators and a teachers union leader said school districts have denied or withheld stipends from educators whose pay elected leaders intended to boost.

Last June, then-Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature allocated $198 million for teacher and school support staff stipends of $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. They gave out the money in lieu of a permanent raise.

Lawmakers said they intended the stipends to mimic a permanent pay hike, but the Louisiana Department of Education gave school districts and charter schools wide discretion over how and when to distribute the extra money.

The extra pay doesn’t have to be given to teachers and other staff until May 1, according to state documents distributed to school districts last summer. State education officials also suggested school districts could dole it out in one lump sum last fall or this spring, or as two separate payments spread over the school semesters.

The guidance means some school districts and charter schools may not have given out any of the stipend to teachers and staff yet, said Cynthia Posey, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. The union intends to conduct a poll in the coming weeks to determine how many of its members received the additional compensation.

Posey’s organization and legislators have also heard anecdotal reports of teachers being denied the extra money outright.

A school district in central Louisiana told a teacher she didn’t qualify for any of this year’s stipend because she retired Jan. 1 before it was distributed, Posey said. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, intervened on behalf of a charter school teacher in his area who hadn’t been given her stipend because she was out on maternity leave.

Willard, whose mother is a retired teacher, said these complications with teacher pay are occurring in part because lawmakers’ did not approve a permanent raise. If the extra pay was factored into teachers’ base salaries, school administrators would not be in a position to withhold the money, he said.

Republicans are also concerned the money they intended for teachers hasn’t reached them yet. Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, chairman of his chamber’s education committee, asked state officials last week to produce a report on the distribution of the stipends this year.

“What did each parish do? And where do we stand with those dollars?” Edmonds told the Illuminator, listing questions he would like state officials to answer. “Was the legislative intent carried out?”

State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley declined to be interviewed for this article, but spokesman Ted Beasley said information on the stipend distribution likely wouldn’t be available for several months.

“We would not have current year salary data until the following school year,” he wrote in an email.

Edmonds said it’s important to get clarity on the stipends in the next few months because Gov. Jeff Landry and lawmakers are considering another round for teachers and school support staff this coming school year.

Teachers unions and some legislators are pushing for a permanent raise instead of another stipend, but Landry and other Republican leaders are worried about the state’s looming fiscal downturn in 2025.

Louisiana is expected to face a $560 million budget hole that year, after a planned sales tax cut goes into effect and other sales tax breaks come back online.

Landry and Republicans want the option to cut teacher pay by removing the stipend to deal with a budget hole. If they gave teachers a permanent raise, it would be legally difficult to claw back the money.

“I’m leaning more toward a stipend [over a permanent pay raise], but I will visit with other legislators on that,” House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, said in an interview.