Photo: Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the Louisiana 2019 operating budget, which includes an educator pay increase, on June 18. AP/Melinda Deslatte
By Amanda Litvinov and Amanda Menas
Since his election in 2016, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has championed a pro-public education agenda with policies that support students, educators, and local communities.
Edwards made education funding, including pay increases for teachers and school support staff, a top priority. He has pledged to protect public employee pensions such as the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana. He’s a vocal critic of unaccountable charter schools, voucher programs, and school letter grades.
Here are three (of many) times that Gov. Edwards went to bat for public education:
The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) supported Gov. Edwards’ multi-year plan to increase teacher salaries to the Southern regional average. This year, they successfully advocated for and received the first round of increases.
The governor said that increasing teacher pay was his number one priority for the 2019 legislative session, acknowledging that many teachers struggle to provide for their own children even as they play a critical role in preparing all of our children for the future.
At the start of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, teacher salaries increased by $1,000 and support professionals received a salary boost of $500. And this is only the beginning.
The governor said the school employee pay raises were his number one priority for the 2019 legislative session. By prioritizing these raises, he showed educators from all walks of the profession that their work is valued.
“The fact that this was just a first step in a multi-year plan proves Gov. Edwards’ commitment to championing our public schools and students, because, after all, recruiting and retaining dedicated school professionals is one of the most important investments we can make in Louisiana’s future,” said LAE President Tia Mills.
It is the first substantive pay raise for Louisiana teachers in more than five years. The state currently ranks 39th in the U.S. for average teacher pay.
Immediately upon taking office, Gov. Edwards signed an executive order that empowered local taxing authorities, including local school districts, to vote on the granting of property tax exemptions to corporations.
For more than 80 years, Louisiana’s school districts lacked control over their own corporate tax-break decisions. Instead, one state body, the Board of Commerce and Industry, routinely granted petrochemical giants like ExxonMobil long-term property tax abatements. This program alone cost public services throughout the state about $1.7 billion per year, and schools lost the most: about $600 million annually.
The governor’s executive order placed power back in the hands of local parents and educators, and ultimately restored a precious funding source for public schools.
During the 2019 legislative session, four bills were introduced which would have, once again, reduced local control over the granting of tax exemption applications.
Members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators spent more than a year organizing. Members stayed vigilant during several 7-hour school board meetings and put up with some nasty name-calling from supporters of big business. These efforts were worth it when lawmakers halted every bill, including denying Exxon-Mobil a $2.9 million abatement that would have taken much-needed funding away from students and their classrooms.
When funding for a state program that provides scholarships for Louisiana students to attend public colleges (Louisiana Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS) was threatened by the legislature’s proposed budget, Gov. Edwards used his state of the state address to illustrate the urgency of fixing the Louisiana’s financial crisis. He told the story of a successful high school student–an Eagle Scout who scored 33 on his ACT exam–who considered attending school out of state due to the uncertainty of the TOPS scholarship.
“Losing to Alabama in the classroom should feel just as painful as losing to them on the football field,” Edwards said. “We should dread it…”
Gov. Edwards and his allies were able to advance a $30 billion annual budget that included full funding for the program, plus a $39 million block grant for public school districts.