By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
One day after word of a possible teacher walkout hit the capitol, Gov. John Bel Edwards appeared on the building’s steps to publicly urge House members to approve the school funding formula pushed by his administration.
Edwards joined members of the Louisiana Coalition of Public Schools who had gathered on the steps to support his proposal, which was approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The plan includes raises of $1,000 for teachers and $500 for school support employees and an additional $39 million in funding for the school districts.
Lawmakers, including Senate Education Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, and Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, remained confident that the House would approve the funding formula.
“The House of Representatives is going to vote this in if I have anything to do with it,” Smith said at the press conference.
The Senate had already advanced the state school board’s proposal in a 37 to 1 vote. House Republicans have proposed an alternative to Morrish’s plan, including a $1,200 pay raise for teachers and a $600 pay raise for support employees.
But their measure, included in the budget bill authored by Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry, did not include the additional $39 million in discretionary funding.
“If we don’t move the funding formula all the way through the process and match it up with an appropriation,” Edwards said at the press conference, “you can call it what you want, but it will not be a pay raise.”
Leaders of the state’s teacher unions remained confident that the funding formula would be approved by the full House. But if not, “we’ll take it to the ballot box,” said Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
Despite a 2018 survey by the LFT that showed that 60 percent of union-member respondents favored a job action if they were not granted a significant pay raise, Carter said the LFT didn’t have any plans to organize a strike or a walk-out if the proposed pay raises weren’t included in the state’s funding formula.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said she hoped Edwards would step in if BESE’s formula was not approved. Meaux said she was waiting to see what the Legislature did before the organization took further action.
But, she was confident that there would be some fallout if BESE’s proposal was not approved.
“We’re not going to use the word strike,” Meaux said. “I’m not going to say that it will be a work action. I don’t know what the fallout would be, but I’m sure that there will be fallout.”
“People are going to the polls in October,” Meaux added. “They may remember that this is something that was done to them and they may not take too kindly to those who did it to them.”
The governor’s plan was passed by the Legislature on May 31.
Political History: LBJ’s Beef With Shreveport
In January, 1965, U.S. Sen. Russell Long heard that the while the Appropriations Committee was preparing the upcoming congressional budget, it had killed his pet project.
Long had wanted to build a new post office in Shreveport, bringing federal jobs and money into the city. When he was told that the cut had been ordered by the White House, the senator picked up the phone and called President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Long and the president, having been freshman senators together, were old friends. When Johnson had risen through the upper chamber’s ranks and become majority leader, the Bayou State’s junior senator had been one of his most reliable votes.
LBJ often spoke about his admiration for the late Huey Long, Russell’s father. When he was a young congressional staffer in the 1930s, the future president frequently slipped away from his desk to watch the Kingfish’s tirades on the Senate floor.
In between appointments in the Oval Office, Johnson took Long’s call. Their conversation, which was secretly recorded, is a powerful example of LBJ’s domineering personality and brash political style.
After exchanging pleasantries, the senator explained his predicament. The president, fresh off the largest electoral victory in American history and days away from his second inauguration, was not in a conciliatory mood. Instead of the friendly chat Long probably expected, he found himself on the receiving end of one of Johnson’s legendary harangues.
The president immediately made it clear that the removal of the post office project in Shreveport was made out of political animosity. Despite winning 44 states the previous fall, he had lost Louisiana to Barry Goldwater by a wide margin. Caddo Parish, in particular, had been a hotbed of anti-Johnson sentiment. Word had gotten back to the White House and it stuck in LBJ’s craw.
“Those are some of the meanest, most vicious people in the United States,” Johnson told Long. “Now you help those folks that vote for you and stay with you. You don’t reward Shreveport.”
Long then tried to reason with the president, telling him that getting the post office built had been his own campaign pledge and therefore could hurt his chances for re-election.
“I told those people I was going to get it for them,” he said.
The president was undeterred — he would be happy to approve federal projects in Louisiana to help the senator politically, he told Long, but anything in Shreveport was out of the question. When Long mentioned recent job losses at Barksdale Air Force Base, the commander-in-chief said he was considering shutting down the whole installation.
Frustrated, Long started pleading before LBJ cut him off.
“I know your daddy must be turning over in his grave,” he said. “He didn’t reward people that way.”
The president knew his history well.
They Said It
“There is nothing worse that biting into a veggie burger.”
— State Rep. Terry Brown, I-Colfax, on imitation beef, speaking before the House Agriculture Committee
“I’ve been here longer than a lot of you listening have been alive.”
— Term-limited state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, on longevity, in his farewell speech
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