Pay teachers but do it right

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 27, 2001

Teacher pay is a hot-button item in Baton Rouge, as it well should be. Teachers in parts of Louisiana are now being actively recruited by Texas schools, enticed with better pay and benefits, while robbing Louisiana students of many of our best and brightest instructors. Gov. Foster is assembling a plan to finance his promise to teachers to boost their pay to match the Gulf South average and aim at matching the Southern states average. Among those plans are to pick the pocket of the Minimum Foundation Program, removing its supervision from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Eduction, where the state’s voters placed it by constitutional amendment. As St. Charles School Board Member John L. Smith noted Wednesday, “Once this happens, a precedent will be set to take money from education programs to fund pay raises.” Other Foster plans include “selling” Louisiana’s share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement as bonds, aiming to retire the state’s bonded indebtedness and free up funds to finance TOPS and add to teacher pay. Yet another idea is to force riverboat casinos to remain permanently docked, thereby increasing revenues in exchange for a bigger tax bite. It’s a complicated scheme and one bedeviled with hazards. Control of education program funds should be in the hands of the professionals, accountable, to be sure, but apart from the state legislature. Teacher unions are adopting a “wait and see” attitude, eager for more pay but cautious about where the money is coming from. This is a mature, considered attitude. It may be nice to have more money in teachers’ pockets, but tuition programs and funds intended for the classroom are important as well. One thing which has caused immediate benefit to children is a halt to the so-called “Foster Flu” sickouts by Louisiana Federation of Teachers members. Walkouts by teachers, looking at the bottom line, hurt students. When students can’t go to school, they’re not getting the education they deserve. Certainly, teachers deserve to be paid better. A number of vital professions also need pay raises, from nurses to police. All serve a vital function of benefit to everyone. However, we should pay close attention as to where the funds are coming from. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is what this is, and it hurts when the quality of your children’s education is “Peter.” Keep a close eye on this issue, and keep the phone numbers of your state legislators handy.