Week 9: The End

Share This

WEEK 9: THE END

Yesterday evening the 9-week Louisiana legislative session came to a close. It was a fast-paced term with lots of legislation that had the potential to impact the lives of every day teachers and support staff in Louisiana. Here are the highlights:

WON RAISES

For the first time in more than a decade, the legislature approved raises for support staff and teachers. This victory (which dedicates $101 million for reoccurring educator raises and a $39 million increase in per pupil funding) is just the first step in a multi-year strategy to bring Louisiana educators’ pay to the Southern Regional Average and re-invest in Public Education after years of disinvestment. Beginning this fall, teachers will see a $1000 pay increase and support staff will see a $500 increase. Unlike other proposals that offered a slightly higher increase ($1,200 for support employees and $600 for teachers), this raise will be reoccurring -- it is not a one-time stipend -- and we were able to secure additional funding for local school districts to help with classroom costs. This is not enough. Louisiana is still behind the Southern Regional Average and our educators struggle to make ends meet every day; but the only reason we were able to take this first leap is because of the thousands of educators who wrote emails, letters, postcards, floor notes, made calls, and came to the capitol.

 

SAID ‘NO’ TO PRIVATIZING THE RETIREMENT SYSTEM

HB 28 by Rep. Ivey attempted to undermine our incredibly successful pension system by creating a hybrid 401K direct contribution system, which would have jeopardized the retirement savings for generations of educators. Statistically, 401K plans have a lower investment return than pensions and since public educators in Louisiana are barred from collecting social security, this bill could leave retired educators destitute. Thankfully, the entire Louisiana Public School Coalition came together to defeat this bill: it died in committee, but Rep. Ivey told room, “this issue is never going away with me.” If Ivey is re-elected, we will likely need to continue fighting his attempts to privatize our retirement.

DEFEATED EFFORTS TO DESTROY TEACHER’S RIGHTS

HB 453 by Rep. Miguez would have demolished teacher’s collective bargaining rights. Thankfully, we were able to act quickly to make sure this disastrous proposal never saw the light of day. All across the country, educators have watched as legislators attempted (and sometimes succeeded) in taking away their collective power. It’s just another symptom of the larger de-professionalization and disrespect that teachers and support staff have to put up with every day. We must continue to defeat efforts like HB 453, which are intended to silence our collective voice.

EXPANDED TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR CLASSROOM SUPPLIES

SB 6 by Senator Hensgen would have allowed teachers and support staff who buy supplies for their classroom to deduct those expenses from their taxes, up to $250. Teachers and support staff spend hundreds of dollars each semester on school supplies for their students. This will help alleviate some of that burden, but we still have a long way to go until school districts have enough resources that teachers don’t feel they have to dip into their own savings every semester. However, this bill was rejected in the Senate Finance Committee due to lack of available funding.

PUSHED TO RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE

SB 155 by Sen. Troy Carter would have given Louisiana voters the opportunity to choose to establish a state-wide minimum wage of $9/hour. This bill had the opportunity to positively impact tens of thousands of people across the state and stimulate economic growth, but it was defeated by representatives who are more concerned with their own bottom line then the lives of their constituents.

FOUGHT FOR A FAIR VAM GRIEVANCE PROCESS

HB 337 by Rep Pat Smith would have created a grievance process around the value-added assessment model (VAM). LFT worked with Rep. Smith to create this bill because VAM scores impact a teacher's pay, job security and reputation, but many teachers have found serious flaws in the way their results are calculated. True to form, the anti-teacher faction on the House Education Committee managed to kill the bill, but we will continue fighting next year to make assessments fair for students and teachers.

OPPOSED EXPANDING SCHOOL VOUCHERS

HB 446 by Steve Carter sought to create a $46 million voucher program, despite the recent investigative reports that found striking problems in the current Louisiana school voucher program. Many of the same representatives who (wrongly) insisted the state did not have money to fund reoccurring raises and additional school funding supported efforts to direct money into this program instead. LFT opposed this this effort to expand vouchers and it died in the Senate.

DEMANDED FAIRNESS AND TRANSPARENCY IN HOW THE STATE PAYS ITS DEBT TO OUR RETIREMENT

Years back, the legislature decided not to make their mandatory payments to the teachers' pension fund -- TRSL -- in an attempt to solve a budget crisis. Eventually, they had to pay it back and when they developed the plan to repay that unfunded accrued liability, they decided that each year the state would give a piece of what it owed to each school district through the per-pupil funding in the MFP and then the individual school districts would pay into TRSL. This created a murky system without much accountability or transparency and it also makes Louisiana’s per-pupil spending look larger than it actually is. Plus, schools that don’t pay into TRSL (i.e. charter schools) would get the extra money in their per-pupil funding, but they could just keep it. HB 19 by Rep. Pearson could have helped resolve this by simply cutting out the middle man. Instead of the state giving local school districts money to pay off the state debt, the state would just pay TRSL directly. Unfortunately, this straightforward solution was rejected by the legislature. We must continue to fight for fairness and transparency, even in the most technical processes!

ACHIEVED GREATER TRANSPARENCY IN MEETINGS BETWEEN PUBLIC OFFICIALS

SB 66 by Senator Riser expands the current law mandating openness and transparency in meetings between public officials and allows for further financial penalties against those who violate the open meeting policies and laws. This bill was successfully passed through the legislature!

PROTECTED LOCAL CONTROL OVER ITEP

Rep. Rick Edmonds and Senator Bodi White both proposed legislation that would roll back local governments' authority over industrial tax exemptions in their district. In 2016, Governor Edwards reformed the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) in an executive order, which gave local governing bodies a seat at the table when considering these tax exemptions and required that companies demonstrate job creation or job retention (or both) in order to qualify. HCR 1, SCR 259, and a last minute change to SCR 129 attempted to create a local committee, which would reduce the local authorities who would be part of the decision making process. These efforts to roll back local control of ITEP were all defeated!

BACKED PROTECTIONS FOR WORKING PEOPLE

Senate Bill 136 by Senator Morrell would have allowed employees to discuss their wages with co-workers without the threat of retaliation from their boss. It is important for colleagues to have the option to discuss salaries in order to help overcome discrimination of disparate treatment. This wouldn’t have required anyone to disclose their salary, but would simply have offered protections to those who wished to disclose. Unfortunately, there were too many representatives who opposed these rights for working people.

PUSHED TO RECLAIM SOCIAL SECURITY RIGHTS

HCR 20 by Rep. Jones and SCR 34 by Sen. Mizell both requested that Congress review and consider eliminating the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) Social Security benefit reductions, so that Louisiana teachers and support staff can participate in Social Security again. Unfortunately, this isn't something we can solve on the state-level: the federal government must take action. So, state lawmakers have passed similar resolutions multiple times over the years to urge action on this issue at the federal level. We must continue pushing our partners in Congress undo this misstep in policy and let educators participate in Social Security.

STABILIZED RETIREMENT BOARDS

SB 14 by Sen. Peacock would have limited the ability of an elected board member of state/statewide retirement systems from running for a term that would allow that board member to serve more than 12 or 15 consecutive years, depending on the board term. A board member of a retirement system should have an understanding of complex investment and financial issues. If we limited them, we would loose valuable institutional and specialized knowledge, which could potentially weaken our system. Although the bill was considered and amended in the Senate retirement committee, a vote on it was never taken.