“It has taken our legislature 10 years to finally adopt a budget that is stable and predictable, without playing budget tricks and sweeping funds for one-time money,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter. “Now it’s time to address the neglect the situation that bad decisions by the previous administration brought us to.”
The AFT study shows that Louisiana is one of 25 states that spends less on K-12 education, when controlled for inflation, than before the 2008 recession. The story is even worse for higher education, where spending cuts forced unprecedented hikes in tuition and fees for students.
If Louisiana were to keep even with the level of education spending in 2008, the study says, our state would have to invest $834 million in colleges and universities, and $248 million in K-12 education.
After reaching parity with other Southern states in 2007, Louisiana’s average K-12 teacher salaries actually declined between 2012 and 2016. A number of respected university professors left the state, taking their research grants with them. Numerous reports have documented the decline in university facilities as state funding shrank.
Many states suffered during the post-recession “decade of neglect,” but the AFT study shows that Louisiana’s problems were largely self-inflicted.
By 2008, Louisiana’s budget was flush, mainly due to federal assistance following devastating hurricanes and high oil prices. The state was actually generating a surplus. But instead of using that opportunity to create a stable budget, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the legislature went on a tax-cutting spree. Jindal cut taxes a total of six times, and the state reduced its tax effort by 6.7 percent.
Then the federal recovery funds dried up, oil prices tanked, and the recession rocked the world economy. Unable to ride out the fiscal storm because of the Jindal cuts, and unwilling to raise revenues, lawmakers cut higher education and froze K-12 funding.
“Our economy is starting to roll again,” said Carter. “We can’t make the mistakes of the past all over again. It’s time to make up for our losses, invest in our schools, and make education the cornerstone of future development in our state.”
Carter noted that a big majority of Louisiana teachers are willing to take job actions if leaders fail to address the losses that educators have suffered in the past decade.
“There is great unrest in the education community,” Carter said. “Elected officials will ignore us at their peril. We understand that it is up to us to demand the changes that must be made. We care, we show up, we fight, and we vote. We will not be denied.”