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Learning Loss, Teacher Shortage Among Louisiana Ed Priorities

The state’s 2022 legislative session will seek to address the growing shortage of teachers across all subjects, falling student proficiency scores and grades after 22 months of hybrid classes, school choice and more.

Louisiana State Capitol
(TNS) — How to address Louisiana’s worsening teacher shortage, teacher pay raises, and steps to recover learning loss sparked by the pandemic will be key topics during the 2022 legislative session, officials said Monday.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry have started crafting their education priorities ahead of the regular session, which begins March 14.

What the state can do to ensure every public school classroom has a teacher will be one of the topics.

Tia Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said her group’s legislative committee Saturday said luring educator retirees back into the workforce is one of its goals.

State education leaders say what used to be chronic shortages in special education, math and science classes have spread to virtually every subject.

Teacher and other school personnel retirements rose 25 percent from 2020 to 2021.

Veteran educators say they are grappling with unprecedented challenges just to make sure students have a teacher in their classroom.

Mills said the drop has been going on since 2010.

“It has been a steady decline in educators returning to work,” she said. “There are critical shortages everywhere.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is starting the third year of his second term, likely has one more chance to fulfill his pledge to boost teacher salaries to the regional average. The 2023 session will take place in an election year, and the Democratic governor’s lame duck status will hinder any push for breakthrough measures.

Teacher pay here ranks 12th of 16 states in the South, with average salaries of $51,566 compared to the regional average of $55,205, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

The U.S. average is $64,133.

Cynthia Posey, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said pay hikes of at least $1,000 are needed to be meaningful amid rising health insurance and other costs. Posey said some of the problem stems from “political games” played by Edwards’ critics, including debates over how much money should be available for teachers and other areas.

The Revenue Estimating Conference is set to meet Tuesday to settle on Louisiana’s financial outlook between now and June 30 and for the financial year that begins July 1.

Mills said the LAE also favors a pay raise but has not settled on any specifics.

“We have to stay optimistic and have the necessary conversations,” she said. “We are losing so many educators to other states.”

Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said one of his group’s priorities will be addressing learning loss sparked by 22 months of education upheaval caused by the pandemic.

Nearly three out of four public schools showed drops in their school performance scores during the 2020-21 school year. That year was marked by a mixture of in-person and virtual classes amid efforts to curb the coronavirus.

Annual public school letter grades were canceled here, part of the freeze on school accountability measures across the nation.

Waguespack was chief of staff for then Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2012 when the Legislature, at Jindal’s urging, approved sweeping changes in public school operations. He later served on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Every state is going to be focusing on it,” Waguespack said of learning loss.

“They have two years of students who either stayed home or have been in and out,” he said. “We cannot leave this generation of kids behind.”

Legislation to ensure teachers have duty-free lunches will be another priority of the LAE.

LFT’s Posey said allowing teachers to get key test results, such as LEAP 2025, in time to help guide instruction will be another session goal. “Right now they get it so late there is no way for it to inform,” she said.

Waguespack said expanding parental school options, especially for special needs students and those stuck in failing schools, is another LABI goal.

©2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.