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Week 6 in the Legislature

WEEK 6

Return-to-Work (RTW)

In an effort to address the decade-old teacher shortage, numerous bills aimed at enticing retired teachers back to the classroom have been filed. While these bills are getting a lot of attention right now because of the teacher shortage, RTW laws have impacted TRSL since 1957.

Over the years, some of these bills have been so extreme that they threatened the long-term financial stability of TRSL. Currently, there are a few options that are modest in their reach and unlikely to cause damage to the system. They may even encourage a few teachers to come out of retirement and return to the classroom in the short term, but they offer no solution to the crippling teacher shortage that is currently plaguing our schools. Over the last few months, BESE members, legislators, and other officials have touted the idea of retirees returning to the classroom as a solution to the teacher shortage. In truth, the number of retired teachers who chose to return to the classroom has decreased dramatically over the last ten years.

Currently, retired teachers who go back to work can earn up to 25% of what they made in their final year in the classroom (unless grandfathered in). In this session, there are eight bills proposed that seek to change the way the system pays and allows for retired teachers to return to work. Of all the RTW bills filed, the two gaining the most traction are:

HB 1021 (McFarland, DeVillier, Edmonds, Frieman, Harris, and Romero) would amend the 2010 RTW law to allow an employer to hire a RTW retiree certified in any area to fill critical shortage vacancies.
Passed the House Retirement Committee this week.

SB 434 (Fields) Would change the 2010 RTW Law to allow a retiree who has been retired for at least 12 months to be directly re-employed without suspension or reduction of benefits to fill a critical shortage for a position if either of the following apply: (1) the retiree is certified to teach mathematics, science, English language arts, or special education excluding gifted and talented and is re-employed to fill a position in the area of certification; or (2) the retiree is re-employed to fill a vacancy created because a teacher is on maternity leave, military leave, sabbatical leave, or extended sick leave. This law would sunset on July 1, 2025.
Passed the full Senate this week.

Both bills seek to provide teachers with much-needed support. However, SB 434 would not harm any of the 2020 legislative changes implemented for the health of the retirement system. SB 434 would also require that students would benefit by requiring returning retirees who are certified to teach math, English, reading, and special education.  

It’s impossible to say precisely how many retirees would take advantage of this program, but the data from past years tells us it isn’t enough to fill the 2,500+ vacant positions that are expected by the end of the year. TRSL anticipates that these bills would only result in, at most, 500 employees returning to school (statewide), and only for a limited period of time. This is simply a band-aid on a bullet hole.

If legislators truly want to halt the mass exodus of qualified teachers, they need to fix the things that are causing them to leave in the first place. Teachers are leaving because their working conditions have become untenable:

  • they are overburdened with paperwork and meetings;
  • they are victims to a broken accountability system;
  • they are subject to policies that interfere with their ability to properly manage their classroom;
  • and they have little opportunity to do what they love: teach.

The teacher shortage is a direct result of the policies adopted by BESE and the legislature. LFT will continue to fight these reforms and propose legislation that will address these core issues.

Resolution on GPO and WEP

HCR 11 (M. Johnson) passed the full House on Monday. This resolution urges and requests state legislatures to ask Congress to review and eliminate or reduce the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which prevent Louisiana’s public employees from receiving social security. Resolutions similar to this have passed the Louisiana legislature each session for many years, but they are ultimately meaningless. Nothing can be done on the state level to repeal or fix the GPO and WEP. Only Congress has the power to take action on these items. Unfortunately, it would cost about $40 billion to repeal the WEP and GPO, and it would only impact 15 states. LFT is working alongside our national partners to address this issue, the Louisiana legislature can do nothing beyond this unbinding resolution. To learn more about how this came to be, click here.

Voucher Expansion Bills

SB 203 (Hewitt) passed the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. This is the first of the Senate bills aiming to expand voucher schools under a new program known as “Education Savings Accounts.” It would allow any student who is reading under grade level in second or third grade, according to a standardized test, to leave their public school and take their state MFP dollars to a private voucher school or for-profit vendor.

Our current voucher schools have proven to be inferior to public schools. After four years in these schools, students perform worse than their public-school counterparts in every subject area, including in reading and writing. For many, the amount of money they get from the voucher program will not cover the tuition and fees of successful private schools, thus sending them to lower performing schools. Parents won't know if their child is receiving a quality education because these schools will not use the same tests or metrics as our public schools. If the goal is to provide a choice for parents, we need to provide accurate metrics for them to make the best choice possible for their child.

If you have not already, please take a moment to write to your legislators, asking them to oppose SB 203 and all of the bills that aim to expand our failing voucher program.

Pay Raises & The MFP

On Wednesday 4/27, the House Education Committee is scheduled to hear HCR 23 (Harris), which is the legislative instrument for the MFP. Each year, BESE makes an MFP proposal and sends it to the legislature. Before any increases can go into effect, the MFP must be passed through the legislature and funded in the budget.

This year, BESE’s MFP proposal includes a $1,500 pay increase for certified staff and $750 for classified employees. The proposal also includes a letter to the legislature, where BESE urges that any additional funds recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference in early May be allocated for additional salary increases. If the REC recognizes additional funding, BESE requests that the Legislature return the MFP formula to BESE so that they may revise and resubmit the formula to increase the pay raise to a minimum of $2,000 for certificated staff and $1,000 for non-certificated support staff.

The REC has not yet met, so we do not know officially how much additional revenue will be recognized, but it is widely anticipated that there will be funding for additional pay increases. In order to increase the pay raise, the legislature would have to vote to return the MFP to BESE so that BESE can amend it. Then the legislature would have to approve either HCR 23 or SCR 19 and fully fund the proposal in the budget. While this may seem like a convoluted process, it isn’t unusual, the legislature has returned the MFP to BESE to ask them to increase or decrease their proposal in the past, and there is still plenty of time left in the process for this to happen.

In the event that HCR 23 is held up in the legislative process, Senator Cleo Fields has filed SCR 19 to ensure there is a way to move the pay raises forward.

On Thursday, the House approved their initial budget. The $37 billion budget did include pay raises for teachers and school employees, but only $1,500 and $750. Instead, it provides for "about $34 million in earmarks for favored local projects, municipal agencies and outside groups that arguably have no place in a state spending plan." This budget will now proceed to the Senate, where it will be amended. Then, before a final budget is passed, it must be reconciled and approved by the full House and Senate again. A lot will change between now and then.

We are still optimistic that more funding will be made available for teacher and school employee raises. Unfortunately, it isn’t guaranteed. Some legislators are pushing back against additional increases. Now is the crucial time for your legislators to hear from you.

Please take a moment to send a personalized message to your Louisiana State Representative and Senator, asking them to support a larger pay increase. Tell them, in your own words, why this is so important.

SB 145: Eliminates Local Input in the Creation of Corporate Charter Schools

Senate Bill 145 by Senator Talbot was approved by the full Senate on Wednesday 4/20 with a vote of 21-15. Under this bill, a “charter school with a corporate partner” wouldn’t need to submit a proposal to their local school board. Instead, their proposal could go straight to BESE, eliminating the input of school boards and their constituents in the local community.

Under current law, if a corporate charter school applies to the local school board and their proposal is denied, they can appeal the decision to BESE. Charter schools already have the ability to go to the state board, but only after getting input from the local community. Next, it will go to the House.

Click here to send a letter to your Representative and the entire House Education Committee asking them to oppose SB 145.

HB 363: Teacher Voice in SLTs

On Thursday, April 21st, the full House approved HB 363 by Rep. Bryant with amendments by a vote of 99-0. This bill would make it so a supervisor (usually the school principal or assistant principal) would have to sit down with each teacher and discuss their SLTs. If they don't have this meeting, then SLTs can't be used in that teacher's evaluation.

Unfortunately, the language that mandated that teachers and administrators develop the SLTs "collaboratively" was removed because representatives from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Pelican Institute objected to that requirement. In some districts there isn't even a conversation about SLTs, so this is a step in the right direction. No longer could districts or principals just hand down SLTs without considering the needs of individual students or the input of teachers. Next, it will proceed to the Senate.

Scheduled for Floor Debate Next Week

Please note: These bills are scheduled for floor debate next week. Sometimes controversial bills are passed over until later, to improve efficiency. It is difficult to know with certainty if a bill will be debated when scheduled, or if it will be delayed.

HB 510: Ending the Onslaught of Trainings
Scheduled for floor debate on Tuesday, April 26th.

Each year, the legislature adds additional work and trainings that our teachers are required to take on, often without compensation. HB 510 by Rep. Mincey would end the pattern of ever-expanding trainings for educators. If the legislature wants to add a new required training for teachers, they have to provide compensation OR remove an existing training (one which requires at least the same amount of time as the new requirement).

Click here to ask your legislators to support HB 510!

HB 215 & SB 57: Raise for School Bus Owner Operators
Both bills are scheduled for floor debate in their respective chambers on Monday, April 25th.

HB 215 (M. White) & SB 57 (McMath) are nearly identical. They would change the formula and increase compensation for school bus owner-operators. Bus drivers are one of the most challenging positions to fill for Louisiana school districts. This legislation would be the first time since 1986 that the state has changed the formula and increased compensation for our owner-operators.

Click here to ask your legislators to support HB 215 & SB 57!

SB 151: Preserving Local Control of ITEP
Scheduled for floor debate on Monday, April 25th.

Senate Bill 151 by Sen. Pope is a proposed constitutional amendment that would preserve local governments’ control over their own Industrial Tax Exemptions. In 2016, Governor Edwards gave local taxing bodies the authority to decide whether to grant exemptions on property taxes in their parishes. Prior to this executive order, an unelected board in Baton Rouge decided whether or not to give corporations exemptions from local property taxes. This board was able to ignore the wishes of taxpayers as to how they want their hard earned tax dollars spent. Without this proposed constitutional amendment, another governor could undo Edward’s action and revert the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) to its previous form, eliminating local control over local tax exemptions. Without local control, school boards and other local governing authorities don’t have control over their own revenue, leading to cuts in vital public services like education.

Click here to ask your Senator to support SB 151!

HB 986: Privatizing School Food Services
Scheduled for floor debate on Monday, April 25th.

House Bill 986 by Representative Edmonds seeks to open the door to privatize school nutrition programs in Louisiana’s public schools. Despite Edmond’s testimony before the House Education Committee that his bill pertained to “snacks and the evening meal,” the legislation would open the door to private, for-profit vendors to take over the management of school food programs. These private corporations would be able to reduce salaries and benefits for employees, as compared to the food service workers employed by the school district. Their staff may not be required to fulfill the same background checks as public-school employees and they would have a financial incentive to cut corners wherever possible. Their priority would be to increase their profit margins rather than provide quality nutritious meals for students.

While local school districts would not be required to privatize their food services, these vendors will promise to cut costs and save the district money. In reality, these corporations seek to profit off of public funding designated specifically to feeding Louisiana’s children.

Click here to ask your Representatives to vote NO on HB 986!