Public-school systems across Louisiana face a challenge that may take years to fix, but efforts from the state superintendent of education – and ultimately our lawmakers – could possibly move things in another direction.    

State Superintendent John White wants legislators to approve a recommendation by Gov. John Bel Edwards to raise salaries $1,000 per year for K-12 schoolteachers and administrative personnel across the state. The proposal would also bump pay $500 annually for support staff, which includes secretaries, cafeteria workers and crews who handle maintenance and custodial duties.

The raises are part of a three-year plan by Gov. Edwards to bring teacher salaries to the Southern average.

The 2016-17 figures – the most recent numbers available – list average pay at $50,000 for Louisiana teachers, which lags $1,498 below the Southern average, which includes 15 other states. The state average is $9,660 below the U.S. average.

White told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that approximately 43 percent of the state’s schoolteachers will leave the profession within five years. He said he believes improved pay would be the key to retaining quality teachers in Louisiana public schools.

In addition, it would help school districts reduce the number of educators assigned to teach courses for which they are not certified. The number is greatest in the northern part of the state – where Grant Parish leads the state with 33 percent in that statistic – but it also hits closer to home, where 25 percent are uncertified in nearby East Feliciana Parish.

The pay hike proposal comes as other states in the Southern region have also targeted pay raises, some as high as $5,000 per year.

It’s an uphill battle for the Louisiana public-school system, which makes it even more critical for lawmakers to consider pay hikes for our teachers. Other states will continue to offer better compensation, and those states may find themselves with a higher quality of educators who can better prepare students for the challenging future they face.

The longer the state dodges the pay raise issue, the worst the problem will become.

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