Many aspects of government work in a cyclical form, much like we do at home in everyday life.
In conversation with the legislators for the Livingston Parish area, the words “teacher pay” and “skilled workforce” emerged as the common goals.
They’re also the two issues by which the five – all of whom are Republican – seem to agree with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.
It’s hard to find many legislators who would scoff at a proposal to raise teacher salaries, even though the approach may differ.
The overwhelming agreement that teacher salaries need a boost comes with good reason. Nearly 2,600 teachers left the profession during the 2016-17 school year, the last year listed by the Louisiana Department of Education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that teachers in Louisiana earn, on an average, $2,000 per year less than their counterparts in the Southern region.
The average high school teacher in Livingston Parish earns approximately $52,000 annually.
It’s a different story in rural, economically-deprived parishes. Along the Mississippi Delta, East Carroll Parish – among the top 10 poorest counties/parishes in the nation – pays its teachers an average of $34,000 per year.
The salaries are just $3,000 more in St. Helena Parish, a short drive north on La. 16.
Some teachers opt for new careers. Others seek greener pastures outside Louisiana.
In the process, the state has missed out on opportunities ranging from auto assembly plants to an Amazon distribution center, which has a vast facility in suburban Dallas, which consumes several miles of real estate.
Some may figure that Dallas would seem like a logical choice largely because of the population of 1.2 million in the city limits alone, not to mention at least another 2 million in the entire Metroplex area.
So how does one explain auto assembly plants that locate in Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama?
Aside from tax breaks, a skilled workforce played a role.
Louisiana legislators have taken notice and have gotten on the bandwagon to raise teacher pay, something that was long overdue.
What’s hurt even more is the number of out-of-state residents who have found work in Louisiana through contract labor, something that has keep the door shut for thousands of state residents.
The question now: How much can the state afford?
The state is operating on a surplus right now, but the dependence on sales taxes and oil prices to pad the coffers makes for a dangerous combination.
Oil prices could pose quite an effect on the state economy, as mentioned in this column last week. The price dropped to $45.23 per barrel at the end of December and rose to $47.09 on Jan. 2.
Meanwhile, an unstable economy does not bode well for a state dependent on sales tax revenue to keep its cash flow intact.
At the same time, state legislators will not push new taxes to add more money for education.
Perhaps cuts to other areas of the state budget could help bring more money to teachers, but it’s difficult to figure how much it would deliver.
State legislators want to hike teacher pay the same time they want to stop the “brain drain” that comes through migration to other states. It may be easier said than done.
It has all the makings of a perfect storm.