10/3/16 Michael Henderson

Director of LSU Public Policy Research Center, Michael Henderson presents Public Opinion about Race Relations and Law Enforcement in Louisiana on Monday, October 3, 2016, in the Journalism Building on campus.

The majority of Louisiana residents support raising public school teacher salaries and increasing the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, according to a report from the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Public Policy Research Lab.

The report was one of six reports conducted as part of the annual Louisiana Survey. The Louisiana Survey was introduced in 2003 as a project of the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs and was designed to provide a nonpartisan, in-depth look at Louisiana residents’ opinions about current policy issues, as well as their feelings about the state’s general progress.

Questions about Louisiana’s progress remain the same from year to year so researchers can track participants’ answers over time, but the specific policy issues addressed in each survey can change on an annual basis. The third report focused on residents’ opinions concerning increasing public school teacher pay and raising the minimum wage.

According to the survey, there is widespread public support for increasing teacher pay, with 88% of participants supporting a pay raise. This consensus holds true even when political affiliations are factored in. Over 90% of Democrats and Independents and about 80% of Republicans supported raises.

However, researchers found there was less support for raising teacher pay when participants were asked if they supported raising taxes to fund these raises, with only 63% in favor.

To determine this, the participants were divided into two groups. One group was only asked if they supported increasing teacher pay, while the other was asked if taxes should be raised to fund an increase in public school teacher pay.

Public Policy Research Center director Michael Henderson, the principal author of the report, said participants were asked only one of the two questions to ensure their answers weren’t influenced by how they responded to the previous question.

“If I ask you what you think about raising teachers’ salaries and you say you support it, and then I ask you about raising taxes to pay for it, your answer might be shaped by how you answered the other question,” Henderson said. “The way to avoid that is to ask each person just one version of the question and see if there’s differences.”

Participants were also asked to estimate the average public school teacher’s salary in Louisiana. The average response recorded was $37,602, but the average annual salary for Louisiana public school teachers is about $50,000. About 75% of participants underestimated public school teachers’ salary.

Participants were also split into two groups to determine if accurate knowledge of teachers’ salaries would influence their opinions. One group wasn’t told the correct salary after making their estimates and another group was told, but both groups demonstrated about the same support for raising pay.

“People nationally underestimate teacher pay, so critics of raising teacher pay sometimes suggest that it’s not that teachers aren’t paid enough, it’s that people don’t know how much teachers are being paid,” Henderson said. “People's support for teacher pay raises in Louisiana is not a function of misperception, although they are mistaken about how much teachers get paid.”

In general, Louisiana residents have confidence in the state’s public school teachers. Fifty-four percent of participants had a “good deal” of confidence, and another 14% had a “very great deal” of confidence. Just 25% had little to no confidence in Louisiana’s public school teachers.

Participants also expressed more confidence in their local public schools than in public schools across the state. Thirty-nine percent of participants graded their local public schools with an A or B, while only 25% graded public schools across the state with an A or B. However, 80% of residents supported increasing spending on Louisiana public schools as a whole, not just in their region.

“On its face, it suggests that people’s attitudes about funding for schools is related to perceptions of quality,” Henderson said. “Not that they want to punish schools that aren’t doing well, but the opposite. They want to intervene more and provide more resources to schools that they see as not doing as well.”

The majority of Louisiana residents also supported raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. Eighty-one percent of all participants supported this proposal, including 94% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans.

Louisiana Survey participants were asked this question in 2014 and 2016 as well. There is slightly more support for raising the minimum wage to $8.50 in 2019 as 76% of participants in 2016 and 74% of participants in 2014 supported the proposal.

When participants were told about potential costs of raising the minimum wage, such as increases in prices, support slightly declined. Again, participants were divided into two groups, but only one group was told about these potential costs. Within the group that was informed about potential price increases as a result of raising the minimum wage, 72% were still in favor.

Overall, Henderson hopes the results of the survey can shine light on Louisiana residents’ political opinions, especially for lawmakers as Louisiana's regular legislative session continues.

“I think the survey is a valuable enterprise for the state, and I would hope the quality of our discourse is positively impacted by it,” Henderson said. “When individuals in the state are discussing these issues, they can have a clear sense of where the public is and of the complexity of the public’s thinking. I would hope that has a positive impact on the policy and political discourse that surrounds these issues.”

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