By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT — With the Louisiana gubernatorial election just six months away, Governor John Bel Edwards is probably not too worried about re-election, but he is covering his bases just in case. Early in the election cycle he proposed a teacher pay raise, and scant as it is ($1,000 a year), I suppose the move reaffirms teacher support for Edwards in some cases.
In general, people are tired of throwing money at education in an attempt to fix problems, and there is some merit to that argument. However, it is also true that Louisiana is well below the Southern average in teacher pay.
Full disclosure: I am a twenty-three year veteran teacher in Louisiana. That being said, while I knew when I went into the profession that I would never get a six-figure salary and would probably have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Most teachers realize this. However, when you are at the very bottom of the pay scale in comparison to neighboring states and even neighboring parishes and districts, the sting is a little tougher.
Starting pay in my district is about $41k. Starting pay in a neighboring parish is about $47k. So, a $1,000 per year pay raise isn’t going to help me keep up; this means that our district bleeds teachers to other districts. Even still, our district is one of the top-performing districts in the state.
I’ll take the raise by Edwards (if it passes the legislature), but it’s not enough.
Knowing that, Edwards has proposed an additional $39 million in funding to public education. Even though this is only the second aid hike in a decade, some in the legislature are opposed and want that money to go to early childhood education.
It’s quite likely that the raise proposed by Edwards will pass; the aid package is not so certain. In parishes like mine where pay is very low, local school districts are scrambling to find ways to retain teachers. Currently my district has forty-one teacher openings for next term. In my school we have had teachers leave during the school year to work in higher paying districts and those classes end up being covered by long-term substitute teachers.
There are many pieces to the puzzle that comprise public education and pay issues and funding are only a part of it. People are tired of top-heavy administration, poor curriculum, Common Core, and other mandates that are well beyond teacher control.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my teaching career; I never got into it for the money but given that, I still have bills to meet and a life to live. Doing it on pennies has been part of the grind. I wish I had a dollar figure for what I’ve spent on pens, pencils, notebook paper, printer ink, dry erase markers, classroom library books, snacks, classroom décor, and the countless times I’ve given kids a dollar for lunch or the snack machine through my twenty-three years.
As much as I’ve enjoyed it, I’m two years out from being able to retire and while I once thought I would work until I couldn’t anymore, I’m beginning to think I’ll punch the clock at twenty-five.
By the time Governor Edwards gives me $1,000 per year, divide that by 12, and that’s $83 per month. But taxes will go up and insurance will go up, and before you know it, I’m actually making less that I was before.
I’m not sure what the answer is for our poorly paid profession, and $1,000 per year might be a start, but I’ve been hearing that for twenty-three years. It’s time to find real answers and Edwards pandering for teacher votes with his $1,000 just isn’t the answer.