Tag Archives: teacher pay

Telling It Like It Is

What was that line from Jaws? It’s baaaack…

“It” in this case is the Indiana Legislature, which is beginning its “long” session. (I don’t know how other state’s lawmaking bodies work, but in Indiana, which has a two-year budget cycle, the session is longer the year the budget is considered.) When I last looked, over 300 bills had been filed by members of the State Senate, and 150 or so by members of the House. As you might imagine, a number of them won’t see the light of day–and most probably shouldn’t.

For that matter, Hoosiers would be better off if some of the bills that will survive quietly died. But that’s a post for another day…

Indiana’s teachers had hoped this year’s budget would include funding for a much-needed raise. That may still happen, and it clearly should, but several lawmakers have issued opinions to the effect that, yes, teachers should get raises, but the school corporations that employ them should just take the money for those raises from another part of the school budget.

This is totally unreasonable, of course, because most of those “other” funds are needed and/or legally earmarked for a variety of purposes, but Indiana’s legislators rarely allow their lack of understanding of the way things actually work get in the way of their opining.

In an op-ed for the Lafayette Journal and Courier, the Superintendent of the West Lafayette School System, Rocky Killion, responded. He began with the obvious:

This week the House Education Committee, on a partisan vote of 9-3, passed House Bill 1003.  House Bill 1003 affirms increasing teacher salaries but provides no additional funding to public schools to do so.  Instead, the GOP calls on public schools to spend differently…

What they do not seem to understand is that unless more revenue is provided, there will be less money to provide custodial, maintenance, secretarial, health, special education and other support services for students and teachers.

Then he turned the tables–very effectively.

If legislators are serious about increasing teachers’ salaries without increasing school funding, I would suggest the same to them, spend differently on public education.  Here are three ways to increase teacher salaries without increasing school funding:

Killion’s first suggestion was to quit spending over $100 million annually on standardized testing. As he quite correctly points out, standardized testing doesn’t improve student learning; what he doesn’t say–but many education scholars confirm–is that such testing distorts what happens in the classroom, because teachers feel impelled to spend more time on subjects that will be  tested than on subjects (like civics, for example) that won’t.

 A statistically sound approach for measuring student achievement and holding school corporations accountable for student learning is that of measuring student academic growth over time, which standardizing testing does not do.  Reallocate this resource to teacher salaries.

His second recommendation was similar:Quit spending over $10 million on IREAD-3 testing.

Teachers do not need this test to determine whether or not a student is reading at a third-grade level.  The best, most efficient way to find out if a third-grade student is reading at a third-grade level is by asking a third-grade teacher.  Reallocate this resource to teacher salaries.

I unequivocally endorse his third recommendation, which was to quit spending over $70 million on student vouchers, and reallocate those resources to teacher salaries.

Vouchers were Initially justified as a way to allow children to escape “failing” public schools, but 60% of Indiana’s vouchers are used by students who have never attended a public school.

What Killion was too “politically correct” to mention in his op-ed was that researchers have found no improvement in academic achievement by voucher students. (A couple of studies have found a decline, at least in math.) It has become quite clear that Indiana’s voucher program–the largest in the U.S.–is simply a way to take money from public education and give it to the religious schools that constitute over 90% of the schools accepting vouchers.

Voucher programs were a strategy devised to evade the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits tax support of religious institutions. The courts accepted the argument that the money was “really” going to the parents, and not to a parochial school. That it was always a specious argument has become glaringly obvious.

Indiana’s public school teachers ought not continue to be underpaid so that religious schools can suck at the public you-know-what.

 

Follow The (Lack of) Money

After the West Virginia teacher’s strike, Vox published a fascinating graphic–an interactive database.

The article itself focused on the pay of teachers in West Virginia, and demonstrated how the buying power of those salaries–which remained essentially flat– had been eroded over the years by inflation. Accompanying the article was an interactive feature that allowed readers to see how their own states measured up.

I looked at Indiana.

The first graph showed average teacher pay (both elementary and secondary) over a fifteen-year period, in dollars, and not adjusted for inflation, both for Indiana and nationally. At the beginning of the fifteen years, national pay averaged $46,752 annually, and Indiana’s teachers came close to that average, at $45,791. By 2016, a significant gap had developed: national salaries averaged $58,950, but the average in Indiana was $50,554.

The graph that really “told the tale,” however, took the same time period and adjusted those numbers for inflation. That graph showed that teachers in Indiana have actually sustained a 15.1% pay cut over the past 15 years.

This is worse than the nation as a whole, where teachers have had their pay cut by an average of 3 percent when we adjust for inflation.

And since 2009, teachers in Indiana had their pay cut by 9.7 percent.

The interactive graph was followed by a table showing where each state’s education funding comes from. In Indiana, 9.8% comes from the federal government, 59.1% from the state, and 31.1% from local government.

There’s an old adage to the effect that “You get what you pay for.” Here in Indiana, the General Assembly came close to passing a bill that would have allowed school systems to hire classroom teachers who lack education credentials. As local media reported,

Like the rest of the country, Indiana is struggling to find enough qualified teachers to fill its public school classrooms. Lawmakers have proposed a possible solution: unlicensed teachers.

Right now, traditional public schools can only hire teachers who’ve met the state’s licensing requirements. While there are alternative paths to teaching, the traditional route to a license is a college teacher preparation program, student teaching and licensing exams in content and pedagogy, the actual practice of teaching.

Several recent studies have told us what most Americans already know: pay matters. The scholarship confirms that teacher salaries are linked to employee retention and that higher pay draws smarter people to the field and the classroom.

In most states, teachers are required to obtain a master’s degree. People with such credentials have options beyond the classroom. Very few of them are in a position to forego thousands of dollars annually in order work at jobs they may love, but that’s what we are asking them to do.

We shouldn’t be surprised if teachers in many (if not most) states who want to stay in the classroom follow the lead of West Virginia.

At some point, our slavish devotion to unrealistically-low tax rates has to give way to the need to pay for effective governance and necessary public services, including but not limited to education.

It’s like the old bumper sticker used to say: “Think education is expensive? Try ignorance.”

We’ve been trying ignorance for far too long, and thanks to the Trump Administration, the GOP and the NRA, among many others, we’re learning just how expensive it can be.