BATON ROUGE – Gov. John Bel Edwards will deliver lawmakers a lengthy list of recommendations – many of them familiar – for the 2019 legislative session.
Pay raises for teachers and school support personnel, along with a hike in minimum wage, and close on the gap in gender pay topped the wish list Gov. Edwards discussed with members of the Press Club of Baton Rouge during their weekly luncheon Jan. 7.
A recommended hike of $1,000 in annual pay for public school teachers, and a $500 per year bump in salary for school support personnel will go before legislators at the 2019 session which begins April 8, Gov. Edwards said.
“This is really an investment in our children, the most precious natural resource God has entrusted with us, and there’s nothing more important than education to set them up for success and for the state of Louisiana collectively,” he said.
The pay hike for teachers would cost the state $72.2 million per year, while the increase for support workers would amount to $25 million annually. Both would fall under Level 1 funding in the Minimum Foundation Program, which determines the state funding allocation for each Louisiana public school system.
The state’s low pay rate for teachers – $2200 below the national average – has caused led students forsake aspiring teachers to seek other majors in college.
Louisiana teachers are leaving the profession at a high rate, while low pay has put a negative impact on college students who pursue a career in education, he said. The shortage of teachers has also led to 35 percent of the students in the state taking class from instructors teaching outside their area of certification.
Furthermore, funding of K-12 education has declined in Louisiana and across the nation, he said.
“I believe pay increases will help Louisiana recruit more talented teachers and improve educational outcomes in schools across Louisiana,” Gov. Edwards said.
Louisiana has reported teacher shortages every year since 2004.
Pay increases would help recruit talented teachers and make Louisiana more competitive and improve the educational outcome in Louisiana, Gov. Edwards said.
“The number one ingredient for a quality education is to have a highly professional and motivated teacher in every single classroom with our children,” he said.
The pay hike for support personnel would aide custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
He also wants to increase funding for in-class activities. Ninety-five percent of the teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money, and without reimbursement. A bump in the Minimum Foundation Program funding by 1.375 percent would help school systems with in-class supplies.
“I can say that from seeing my wife Donna as a music teacher when I’d see her having to buy things every single year for students, including instruments,” Gov. Edwards said.
At the same time, higher education has been funded without a reduction for only the second time in a row and only the second time 10 years, while TOPS has been funded fully and needs-based Pell Grant program is being funded at highest amount ever, he said.
Gov. Edwards also promoted what he called a “modest and meaningful” increase in the minimum wage over the next two years.
Under his plan, the minimum wage per hour would increase from $7.25 to $8.00 in 2020, and a raise to $8.50 by 2021. He said he will urge lawmakers to follow suit with 21 other states and the District of Columbia which increased the minimum wage at the start of 2019.
“Our minimum wage ($7.25) is not a meaningful wage in 2019,” Gov. Edwards said. Louisiana remains one of only five states in the nation with a state minimum wage, and this comes when the federal government has said it would not push any hike in minimum wage.
He also renewed his push for legislation that would close the disparity in gender pay.
“We have the highest wage gap in the United States, and everybody should be offended,” Gov. Edwards said.
He outlined his platform after he touted the accomplishments over his three years in office, most notably last year. Gov. Edwards touted a stable budget which he considers groundwork for continued growth for the state.
“I’m extremely bullish on the future of Louisiana and optimistic because of the foundation of success we’ve laid over the last three years, particularly last year when we were able to stabilize the budget for the long term because of a bipartisan compromised passed last year when we turned deficits into surpluses,” he said. “The surpluses have come at the same time we’ve been able to provide the people of Louisiana a net tax reduction from last year of less than $600 million.”
Gov. Edwards said the state was able to reach the lowest unemployment rate seen in a decade, and Louisiana’s employment currently at a near record high with over 2 million individuals employed in the state.
Since 2016, his administration attracted 113 major economic development projects which have brought $30.7 billion in capital investment in Louisiana and collectively resulted in 500 new jobs and retaining more than 19,000 existing jobs across the state, he said.
Gov. Edwards also touted statistics from the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that stated Louisiana’s economy grew 4.3 percent during the second quarter of 2018 and outpaced the national average.
The state’s economic growth also outdid 12 other states in the southeastern region of the nation, he said. In the process, the Gross Domestic Product reached an all-time high of $250 billion.
“Our economy has never been stronger, bigger, more robust,” Gov. Edwards said. The strong economy, he said, will bring with it two benefits -- no increase in taxes and no special sessions.
Edwards, who spoke to members almost exactly three years after his inaugural ceremony, heads into an election year with a sense of confidence.
He will face two Republican opponents – Congressman Ralph Abraham of Monroe and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
Most political observers predict the Democrat from Amite will figure as a strong frontrunner in the fall election, particularly after three Republican contenders chose not to run.
U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy – who has been outspoken against Gov. Edwards throughout the term – surprised pundits who widely speculated he would throw his hat into the race when he announced he would not seek the governorship.
He followed suit with state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has been at odds with Gov. Edwards throughout the last three years. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise also squashed rumors of a run for the seat last fall.
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