After a decades-long struggle to get Louisiana teacher salaries to the Southern regional average, a new report shows that our teachers now earn nearly $2,000 less than our peers.
Louisiana teacher salaries reached parity with other Southern states in 2007, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. Our average salaries reached a high-water mark in 2012-13, at $51,381. But by 2015-16 (the last year that figures are available) our average salary plunged to $49,745. That year, the Southern average was $50,955 (the national average was $58,363).
How did that happen?
The blame falls squarely on ex-Governor Bobby Jindal and a legislature that foolishly cut taxes at a time when our state was benefitting from one-time hurricane recovery funds. It is critical that the legislature now come up with a long-term solution to make our budget stable, predictable and fair.
There was celebration back in 2007, when it was announced that the long-sought dream of parity with other Southern states had been reached. Thanks to a bipartisan agreement spearheaded by Gov. Mike Foster and State Rep. Vic Stelly, the plan eliminated sales taxes on groceries and prescription drugs, and compressed income tax schedules so that higher income residents paid a bit more.
For the first time in a generation, Louisiana had funds to give teachers and school employees significant pay raises. Annual increases in public education’s Minimum Foundation Program were partly dedicated to teacher salaries.
But with billions of dollars for hurricane recovery flowing into the treasury after Katrina and Rita, big business and the wealthy saw a chance to cut their taxes. Following a feverish and deceptive campaign, lawmakers repealed the Stelly plan’s income tax changes, but retained the lower sales taxes.
Then the one-time recovery funds dried up. What happened next was obvious. The state’s general fund took an $800 million per year hit because of the Stelly repeal. On top of that, a recession caused sales tax revenues to plunge.
For eight years, Gov. Jindal and a passive legislature hid the growing budget gap by plugging ongoing holes with one-time revenues, shifting expenses to the next year, and other sleight-of-hand moves.
That’s why our per-pupil education funding has remained stagnant for the past decade, and why salaries for educators have not kept up with other states, why TOPS funding for high school graduates is at risk, why our colleges are crumbling – the list goes on and on.
Unless lawmakers create that stable, predictable and fair revenue stream for the state, we will fall even farther behind other states, and our young people will continue to leave for better opportunities elsewhere.