Louisiana teachers get raises, but still lag behind

According to this article, the State of Louisiana recently gave teachers in the state a $1500 pay raise, but the Southern Regional Education Board says the state still lags behind other Southern states in teacher salaries:

But because almost every other state in the Southern Regional Education Board area also granted raises - some larger than Louisiana's - the funding gap remains. The SREB average has been described as "a floating target" because when teachers in any state receive a raise, the average rises.

"We're always playing catch-up," said Carol Davis, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators. "All states, especially the states surrounding us, recognize that if you want to attract and keep the brightest teachers, you have to increase salaries."


"There isn't adequate funding for salaries and resources to get the job done right," Davis said. "We're grateful to the governor and the Legislature for finding the money" but it's difficult to reach the southern average "when it's done piecemeal without a plan for reaching that goal."

Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard says that besides raises, the state needs a base salary that would boost wages for the lowest-paid teachers in the state. Several parishes are paying too little to attract and keep effective teachers.

In addition to lower salaries, Louisiana also lost teachers as a result of Katrina:

"An unfortunate consequence of the storms is that a lot of teachers found jobs in other states and they're going to stay there," she said. "They thought they were looking for temporary employment but the salaries were higher, there was more funding education and the working conditions were better."

The article also has some interesting comparisons of state budgets v. education appropriations around the South.

Compared to the U.S. as a whole, however, Louisiana isn't alone among Southern states playing catch-up with regard to teacher's salaries. According to a fall 2005 NEA survey, the only Southern state (excluding Delaware and Maryland which the SREB includes in their region) in the top 20 ranking is Georgia, at 18th. (Which, by the way, has made it more difficult for Tennessee to compete, resulting in teachers leaving the state for Georgia.)

Clustered below the top 25 are North Carolina at 27th, South Carolina at 29th, Tennessee at 31st, Florida at 32nd, Kentucky at 34th, and Arkansas at 35th. Rounding out the bottom 10 are Louisiana at 44th, West Virginia at 46th, Alabama at 47th, and Mississippi at 49th.

These rankings do not, however, take into account the overall lower cost of living in the South as compared to places like California (3rd) or New York (6th). Nor do higher teacher salaries necessarily translate into better schools. But, school systems clearly need to offer competitive pay to attract the best teachers. And as Carol Davis, head of the Louisiana Association of Teachers said in the above article, "It would take a real will on the part of the entire state. The Legislature can't do it by itself. It would take the entire education community and political and business powers."

According to the NEA, another problem is that teacher pay in many states isn't keeping pace with inflation, meaning some teachers are getting a net negative increase. A teacher here in Tennessee told me that one year her raise didn't even cover her increase in insurance premiums. Yet she and thousands of others like her go to work every school day to do the hard work of education children for the betterment of society. They deserve better.