State budget chaos that has gripped Louisiana for the past decade has revolved largely around continuing cuts to higher education and health care, but the state could soon face another fiscal crisis related to inadequate pay for public school teachers.
Colleges and universities and health care facilities and programs have been devastated by reductions in state funding since 2008. It is well known by now that those two areas of state government are not protected by law or the constitution from budget cuts.
Less attention has been focused on inadequate funding for public schools. Those allocations have not declined sharply because of constitutional safeguards, but state support for public education has been stagnant for the past 10 years.
As a result, salaries for teachers and other school personnel have fallen far behind most other states. Average teacher pay here is just under $50,000, which is nearly $2,000 less than the norm in the 16-state southern region.
Louisiana teacher salaries reached the southern average in 2008 but have not grown appreciably since then. Teacher pay here has now fallen to some $10,000 less than the national average, and little has been done to address that problem.
A recent survey of members of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers showed that some 60 percent of the educators support the concept of a statewide walkout or strike to demand better pay and working conditions.
The president of the organization said teachers are dissatisfied not just with low salaries but also with a lack of resources, poor facilities, student discipline issues, a lack of parental involvement and other matters that affect public schools.
Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and other states have been involved in walkouts in recent months to demand higher salaries. The survey indicates that approach is a possibility in Louisiana.
Approximately half of the funding for Louisiana public schools is provided by the state, and the remainder comes from local sources. State funding for education has been frozen in 10 of the past 11 years as costs to school systems continue to increase.
Legislators and other Louisiana leaders insist that improvements in education could provide the foundation for economic stability in the state.
Teachers who are being asked to raise graduation rates, test scores and the numbers of high school graduates entering colleges are underpaid with little hope for salary increases.
The new survey emphasizes that teachers are understandably frustrated with those unacceptable circumstances.