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Will Louisiana Teachers Be the Next to Strike?

Teachers across Louisiana want a pay raise and they're willing to join a statewide walkout to get it. So says a new survey by the 20,000-member Louisiana Federation of Teachers. 

"Our survey shows that teachers are fed up, not just with low pay, but also with a lack of resources, crumbling facilities, poor student discipline, and a lack of parental involvement," LFT President Larry Carter said. The LFT is one of two unions representing teachers in the state. The other is the 15,000-member Louisiana Association of Educators.

LFT's online survey of nearly 4,000 educators, administered between April 10 and May 7, laid out a list of ways teachers might get their demands met, from petitioning local school boards to joining a statewide strike. Most respondents, 61 percent, preferred a statewide walkout to a local strike, which 48 percent supported.

The news from Louisiana comes amid a wave of statewide strikes, from West Virginia to Arizona, in which teachers have walked out and won better pay and benefits for their efforts. The strike in Arizona ended May 3. Teachers there will get a 20 percent pay boost over the next three years, starting with a 9 percent bump this fall. They also won a partial restoration of $371 million in recession-era budget cuts. Still, the teachers have vowed to keep fighting, as they had called for $1 billion in education funding. 

Salaries were by far the top issue for  Louisiana teachers. Of the six issues on the survey, 53 percent of teachers ranked salary as most important, while 40 percent put student discipline at the top of the list. What's more, 78 percent of the teachers said they "have considered leaving the profession because of low pay." 

The average teacher salary in Louisiana has decreased, according to data from the National Education Association, from a high of $51,381 in the 2012-2013 school year to $49,745 in the 2015-2016 school year (the most recent available). A spike in retirements is partly to blame for the decline, according to the LFT, but the survey shows other factors could be at play. Just 19 percent of respondents, for instance, said they have received a local pay raise (not including salary step increases) in the past five years, and 61 percent said their local school boards have frozen salaries within the same time frame.

Unlike some of the states that held walkouts recently, Louisiana does not have a statewide salary schedule. A statewide schedule sets minimum salaries, based on education and years of experience, that districts must pay teachers. In Louisiana, local districts can establish their own salary schedules based on subject area, teacher effectiveness, and prior experience, among other factors.

The survey also showed that teachers view new state laws as a deterrent to raises. Sixty-eight percent of respondents felt 2012's Act I merit pay component, which allows districts to award cash bonuses to teachers scoring "proficient" or "highly effective" on evaluations, makes it less likely that they will receive a raise.

Carter warns state legislators that teachers may be headed for the capitol. "A decade-long funding drought has been devastating for our schools, our teachers and school employees, and the children we serve," Carter said. "When lawmakers meet in a fiscal session next spring, they will be forced to decide whether they will support public education or face an angry, organized resistance." 

This summer, Federation leaders will meet to come up with a plan of action for the coming school year.


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