A statewide teaching shortage is driving fierce competition among school districts to provide increased pay and new benefits. Several districts in the Baton Rouge region have provided recent raises or are preparing to do so in the next school year. Last week, a Colorado-based charter school operator that is taking over a middle school in the city said that it will pay around $20,000 more than the average starting salaries in the region. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier reports:

Livingston Parish schools, which historically have lagged behind its neighbors when it comes to pay, is asking voters on Saturday to reverse that by approving a new 1-cent sales tax. If voters agree, school employees in Livingston would receive a 10% pay raise or a minimum $2,500 yearly increase. “I think we’re just at a crisis mode now,” John Blount, a member of a special board that developed the parishwide proposition, said earlier this year at a public meeting. “We’re at a time of crisis where we’re losing teachers so rapidly because other school districts are doing this and we seem to be the only one that’s not.”

Despite numerous pay raises during Gov. John Bel Edwards’ tenure, Louisiana teachers are still paid less than the Southern regional average, earning around $51,566 per year. While the increased pay is welcome, it masks a bigger problem of why teaching has become an unattractive profession for many young people. 

The pipeline is gone,” [Christel Slaughter, chief executive officer of SSA Consulting] she said. “There are not a lot of people going into education.” Absent boosting the ranks of those willing to work in schools, the pay wars may only increase current inequities, she said. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “It’s not just about getting compensation a little higher so you can steal from your neighbors. We have to make this an attractive profession.”

English learners struggle in school
Louisiana’s population of English learner students (ELS) has doubled over the past decade, increasing from 1.66% to 3.84%. But the state’s graduation rate for these students lags far behind the rates of other students. The gap is also wider than in other states with larger ELS populations, such as Texas. ELS advocates say the lagging graduation rates stem from an abnormal state requirement that the students pass the LEAP test. The Advocate’s Marie Fazio reports. 

The EXCELL coalition, a group of advocates from across Louisiana, is pushing a policy change that would let qualifying students complete portfolio work and be held accountable by a different exam, the English Language Proficiency Test, or ELPT. Texas and Florida have already adopted similar policies. Students who come into the U.S. in 7th grade or later would be eligible. “This is a civil rights access issue, and if we don’t move the needle on this we are denying kids accessible education and equitable opportunities,” Cheruba Chavez, a New Orleans-based education advocate, said in an interview.

Note: Louisiana is one of only eight states that require non-native English speaking students to pass standardized tests to receive a diploma.

One in four Americans don’t have enough to eat 
Nearly a quarter of Americans are food insecure according to a new report from the Urban Institute. The percentage of Americans that don’t have enough food to eat increased from 20 percent to 24.6 percent between 2021 and 2022, as inflation squeezed family budgets and pandemic-era benefits, which increased due to rising rates of hunger, expired. The authors of the report examine alarming trends in food insecurity in America. 

This expiration of federal and state aid coincided with accelerating inflation, with especially rapid growth in the price of food and, during the summer of 2022, extreme volatility in gasoline prices.5 Food prices increased by 10.4 percent between December 2021 and December 2022, hitting a 40-year high for inflation. And, while growth in food prices showed some signs of abating as of early 2023, they remain significantly higher than in 2021 and are still increasing at a rate well above the historical norm. 6 These policy and economic changes have put pressure on family budgets, making it more difficult to afford food and other basic needs. 

Loosening child labor laws
Violations of child labor laws have risen by 37% over the past year, including in dangerous industries such as meatpacking and manufacturing. Unfortunately, at least 10 states are responding by proposing or passing laws to roll back child labor regulations instead of enforcing existing laws that protect kids. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute explains: 

The trend reflects a coordinated multi-industry push to expand employer access to low-wage labor and weaken state child labor laws in ways that contradict federal protections, in pursuit of longer-term industry-backed goals to rewrite federal child labor laws and other worker protections for the whole country. Children of families in poverty, and especially Black, brown, and immigrant youth, stand to suffer the most harm from such changes.

Number of the Day
24.6% – Percentage of Americans that are food insecure. Hunger is on the rise as inflation continues to squeeze family budgets and pandemic-era benefits expire. (Source: The Urban Institute)