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2022 Legislative Summary

This legislative session we saw an onslaught of damaging bills, aimed at weakening public education and undermining teachers’ voices. Many of our elected legislators who praised teachers as heroes at the beginning of the pandemic are now working to defund schools and micromanage teachers’ lesson plans. Thankfully, many of these bills failed to pass, but make no mistake, these attacks will continue.

Funding

This year the legislature approved a $1,500 raise for teachers/certified personnel and $750 for support staff. This is the third pay raise in four years, totaling $3,300 for teachers and $1,650 for support staff. While many in the legislature are quick to tout this total as a proud accomplishment, the fact is that Louisiana has not kept up with neighboring states when it comes to raises for teachers and school employees. We continue to fall below the Southern Regional Average because Louisiana has not prioritized public education, despite multiple years of surplus revenue. 

Instead, the legislature chooses to fund corporate tax breaks. 

High ranking Senate leadership denied further increases to teacher and school employee pay, citing concerns that that local school districts may not be paying their fair share. In reality, the legislature has not done any research to examine how much money local school districts have dedicated to teacher and school employee pay, as Senate President Page Cortez admitted in front of the Senate Finance Committee on May 15th.  

Meanwhile, these same Senators also voted against SB 151, which would have protected local control over Industrial Tax Exemptions, which are used to fund local educational expenses like employee compensation. They say they want local school boards to support larger employee raises, but then they vote to make corporations except from paying taxes to the local school board. If corporations in your district are exempt from paying property taxes, that means you have to pay more. Shouldn’t you have a say in whether or not those corporations get a tax exemption? Not according to the Senators who voted against SB 151.

They also spent a $100 million to extend the “Quality Jobs Program” despite the fact that it does not actually created quality jobs. A 2020 performance audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found the state’s Quality Jobs Program has had a negative return on investment, averaging 5 cents for every dollar the state spends on the program.

A majority of Representatives also voted for HB 456 (Edmonds) which would have created an exception to public record law to allow the state economic development agency to hide certain corporate tax incentive records from the public. Had HB 456 passed, taxpayers wouldn’t be able to calculate how much of their money is given away to corporations. Thankfully, this bill didn’t reach final passage in this session, but is likely to be brought back next year.

Edmonds also authored HB 986, which would have allowed school districts to hand over the job of feeding our students to a for-profit company. Focus Foods, the corporation Edmonds highlighted when discussing this legislation, has recieved complaints about their food being moldy and inedible. Several key legislators heard the concerns of food service personnel and parents and helped LFT kill this dangerous legislation

There are countless examples of legislators redirecting public funding towards private, for-profit businesses, everything from little pet projects to massive corporate tax breaks. Again and again they have chosen the wealthy elites at the expense of our teachers and their students.

Recruitment and Retention

Everyone knows that Louisiana’s schools are understaffed. That’s true of almost all job classes, but especially true for teachers. Anyone who has spent time in a school knows this first hand. To belay any doubt, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) recently published the results from a survey showing over 2,000 staffing vacancies state-wide. You would think that this would be a moment to think critically about why teachers are leaving and what can be done to get them to stay.

Instead, the legislature has taken a surface-level approach to this problem. Legislators’ votes show that they want to get retirees back in the classroom and lower the standards for potential new teachers. At this critical juncture, the proposed legislative fixes do nothing to improve the working experience of your average teacher or make great educators want to stay in the classroom.

In 2012, Bobby Jindal and John White waged their war against traditional public education, which has continued for years. They completely rewrote the law to undermine teacher autonomy, roll out a massive testing infrastructure, and completely change how teachers are able to teach. At the time, LFT leaders warned that these reforms would “demoralize teachers” and that is exactly what’s happened. Our teachers are swamped with paperwork and meetings and “trainings” that don’t actually help them become more effective educators. All this extra, unpaid work is only driving up burnout and making it harder for teachers to focus on the part of the job they truly love: teaching.

Instead of addressing these core issues, legislators are focused on the periphery: enticing retirees to return and lowering the standards for new teachers. Retirees left for a reason. Most aren’t interested in returning until the core issues that drove them away in the first place have been resolved. In the same vein, we want new teachers coming into the classroom to be successful because that is what’s best for them and their students. If we don’t properly prepare incoming teachers, they’re just going to end up leaving too.

The answers are clear, but lobbyists from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Pelican Institute, and other corporate non-educators oppose change at every step, and your legislators listen to them.

They vehemently refuse any attempt to return power or autonomy to teachers. Instead, they use these rules and regulations to put a stranglehold on public schools and public school teachers while simultaneously pushing legislators to fund for-profit educational vendors who are subject to little-to-no regulations at all. Is that really what’s best for Louisiana’s students? Absolutely not!

Attacking Educators

Our schools are at a critical juncture and now more than ever, we need the legislature to take action to lift up the teaching profession. Instead, this year we saw a series of bills that attack the professionalism and autonomy of Louisiana’s teachers; bills that assume educators can’t be trusted.

Louisiana already has some of the most extensive transparency laws regarding parental involvement in curriculum, instructional materials and student learning. This session, we saw numerous bills that were copied verbatim from legislation in other states and are out of touch with the realities of Louisiana. Suppose a teacher is discussing something inappropriate with a student. In that case, there are mechanisms to deal with that teacher.

The idea that teachers all over the state are brainwashing students is offensive and hurtful to the overwhelming majority: teachers who are doing their best with the limited resources they’ve been given.

Too many educators already feel like they are used as scapegoats and blamed for things outside of their control. The type of legislation we saw this year further vilifies teachers, and attempts to pit them against their own communities. In reality, teachers and parents need to work together to meet the needs of students and legislators should be thinking of ways to support that critical collaboration, not create deeper divisions.

Most of these bills failed to pass this year, but as long as it is politically advantageous for legislators to keep the focus on partisan boogiemen instead of actually supporting our educators and schools, that’s what  they’ll do.

In total, 2,300 different pieces of legislation were proposed in this session alone. LFT looks at each one in order to gauge the impact it would have on teachers and school employees in Louisiana. To see a detailed rundown of the legislation that would impact you and LFT’s role in pushing back against damaging legislation, visit our website at la.aft.org.

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