Various studies have been completed highlighting the unhappiness of the American public with the treatment of public school teachers. As far back as 2009, a study reported by the National Education Association reported seven out of ten parents hoped their child would become a public school teacher. The same number also reported they would only support a child entering the education system as a teacher if they could work to achieve a higher salary and better working conditions.
If almost the entire nation is concerned about the level of pay being offered to teachers, the question we ask should be why little to no action has been taken in recent years. In fact, some studies reported by Forbes have adjusted the level of pay for public school teachers for inflation and discovered the income received has fallen by over $30 per week. Since the introduction of No Child Left behind in 2000, U.S. public school teachers are not being paid at the same level as their counterparts in other professional vocations. For example, while a school teacher is paid an average in their first year of work of just under $40,000, a physician is paid around $200,000.
The buildup to the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections seems like the perfect time to explore how best to raise the salaries of teachers in a sensible way. Education Week explains the problem has been addressed by some governors at the state level as they look to increase pay across the board. Increases in many states, such as South Carolina have come in the face of demonstrations by teachers at state capitals. Many governors have called for increased teacher salaries but these pay rises must navigate state congresses across the U.S. In some areas, such as Pennsylvania where the Governor is calling for a base salary of $45,000 each district is given a budget and produces their own pay scales.
Low pay has seen the turnover of teachers in the U.S. reach record levels and far higher than those in other developed nation. Despite this, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has so far failed to address the issue and focus on a for-profit public education system model. The candidate for the Presidential nomination for the Democrats, California Senator Kamala Harris has released her plan for increasing teacher salaries with individual states working in conjunction with the Federal Government.
The plan released by Senator Harris focuses on the Department of Education matching increases made at the state level to bring the salary of each teacher up by $13,500. Harris has stated her belief that a four-year plan would allow the first term of her potential presidency focus on attracting new teachers with higher salaries. The initial plan would include ten percent of the overall funding released directly to the states and used solely to increase teacher salaries. The plan would allow each state the chance to create their own plans for raising salaries depending on experience and education levels.
In the second, third, and fourth years of the plan, the issue of teacher salaries would become more problematic as each state would need to take their own steps to increase pay to reach the maximum level of compensation. During each of these years, Senator Harris has stated her intention to produce legislation that would allow the Federal Government to match each $1 increase from a state with $3 on Department of Education funding.
The plan from Senator Harris is problematic for some as the lack of funding from an individual state would see teachers in certain parts of the U.S. left behind in the calls for greater compensation. As usual, the fear of politics coming into play has become a major fear for the majority of Republican states would not buy into a Democrat-led program despite its popularity. The other fear is those states which have already begun the process of introducing higher teacher salaries would stall their legislation to wait for the introduction of the salary matching program from the Federal Government.
A second option would be for the U.S. Federal Government to take control of the paying of teachers and work all salary increases into the budget of the Department of Education. If the public school teachers of the U.S. are to be seen as professionals akin to doctors who enter their field with a low starting salary of $60,000 shouldn't teachers receive a similar level of pay. In the U.S., there are around 3.2 million qualified public school teachers who many believe should receive a base salary of $60,000 to match professionals of a similar level of education.
What would a $60,000 per year base salary mean for the U.S. Federal Government? Around $200 billion in funding each year. Although this sounds like a large investment each year, it is one-fourth of the annual budget for the U.S. military and just one-tenth of the cost of President Trump's recent tax reform act. By taking the problem of teacher salaries away from State and Local Governments, the issue of raising taxes to pay for salary raises would not be a problem for each state. Instead, all tax funding earmarked for education purposes could be used to supply teachers and students with the materials needed for success.
The view of the majority of policymakers in the U.S. is that the Federal Government will have to play a role in the increases needed for teacher salaries to reach a livable level. As the teachers of the U.S. increasingly look to take on second jobs and accept publicly-funded programs to meet the needs of their families, the issue of salaries should play a major role in the Presidential elections and the next term regardless of who occupies The White House.