Friday, July 01, 2005

More of the same to come?

Just as criticism of the administration’s performance during the recent legislative session was reaching a crescendo, Governor Blanco announced she will call a special legislative session to address the still-outstanding issue of teacher pay raises. The Times Picayune has a quick write-up. The language of the governor's announcement reads like an attempt to spin recent events into an image of gubernatorial persistence rather than defeat. It’s a theme that turns up repeatedly in the short release. A few examples: “Several weeks ago, even before the legislative session ended, I said that I had not given up on the subject of meaningful teacher pay increases.” “As I have said over and over again, competitive teacher salaries are at the heart of any rational plan to rebuild the economy of our state.” “Some may wonder at my persistence in this matter. I hope that this announcement will strongly indicate what should have been obvious. I am totally committed to meaningful teacher pay raises.” Sadly, what was obvious from the start of the legislative session was state leadership’s (governor and legislature included) failure to make education the priority they repeatedly say it is. A few common-sense observations for this Friday: --The legislature failed to approve and the governor failed to endorse no-tax-increase attempts to raise teacher pay during the session. It’s hard to avoid the fact that had they pursued those options, there would be no need for a special session now – and Governor Blanco might be taking less of a beating in the press. --Nobody in a leadership position was willing to abandon pet projects thus freeing monies for teacher pay raises. That tells everyone everything they need to know about the state’s education priorities. --Yesterday’s press release suggested that the governor willfully opted to make health care a priority over education. The session ended only recently; my memory’s still pretty good and that’s not how I remember things. At the time, it looked more like she was forced into changing her plans as a result of resistance to cigarette taxes dedicated to education. Despite the press release and attempts to put a new and happy spin on things and promises of a teacher pay raise should the money become available, certain facts remain unchanged: --The state budget increased by more than $1 billion this year but there wasn’t enough money to be found for teacher pay raises. --Yesterday’s press release confirmed the administration won’t change how it approaches teacher pay raises. Money for teachers will only come from new revenue. It won’t be found in a badly bloated state budget that just grows and grows and grows. --Any system that repeatedly allows -- indeed encourages -- choosing between health care and education priorities is seriously broken. The bruising legislative session should have forced recognition of a simple fact: The current way of doing business in Louisiana is not sustainable. Sadly, based on legislative actions and comments from the governor’s mansion, it looks like Louisiana’s leadership hasn’t yet received that message.