Teach­ers’ pay in­equities in the spot­light

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION -

For­get the ap­ple for the teacher.

They want some­thing a bit more green for their ef­forts. Cash. The na­tion is about to be con­fronted with a ba­sic ques­tion of arith­metic: How much do we value education? And what are we will­ing to pay those to whom we en­trust our chil­dren each day?

For the sec­ond time in less than a month, a state has been en­gulfed in a de­mand from teach­ers for bet­ter pay.

This time it was Ok­la­homa, where teach­ers walked out Mon­day in an ef­fort to shine a light on their pay struc­ture. Schools were closed all week.

This comes just weeks af­ter teach­ers like­wise hit the bricks in West Vir­ginia, shut­ting down pub­lic schools across the state for nine days and forc­ing the na­tion to pay at­ten­tion to education is­sues — specif­i­cally the pu­trid pay for teach­ers in many ar­eas of the coun­try. West Virg­nia, Al­most Heaven? Not if you’re in com­mand of a class­room. Teach­ers in West Vir­ginia rank 48th in the na­tion when it comes to their pay.

The av­er­age el­e­men­tary school teacher in West Vir­ginia makes $47,340 a year, as op­posed to $59,020 for the na­tional av­er­age. That’s a 24 per­cent dif­fer­ence. In high schools, the math reads $45,240 for a teacher in West Vir­ginia; $61,420 in the na­tion, a whop­ping 35 per­cent dif­fer­ence.

In the face of schools that had been shut­tered for two weeks, state of­fi­cials ap­proved a 5 per­cent in­crease for West Vir­ginia teach­ers.

The spot­light is now on Ok­la­homa, where law­mak­ers were feel­ing the heat – from both sides – af­ter Repub­li­cans broke ranks and backed tax hikes to boost education fund­ing and teacher pay hikes.

Mean­while, teach­ers in Ken­tucky marched on the state capi­tol to protest cuts in their pen­sions, while ed­u­ca­tors in Ari­zona are de­mand­ing a 20 per­cent boost in their pay.

Here in Penn­syl­va­nia, where the state ranks 10th in the na­tion in terms of teacher salaries, the prob­lem is not nearly as acute.

But we do share other com­mon education fund­ing is­sues.

Ap­prov­ing pay hikes is one thing. Pay­ing for them is an­other an­i­mal al­to­gether.

Politi­cians find them­selves be­tween the prover­bial rock and a hard place, squeezed be­tween chil­dren, par­ents and teach­ers on one side, and con­ser­va­tives rail­ing against tax hikes on the other.

In that re­gard, Penn­syl­va­nia is no dif­fer­ent than any other area of the coun­try. The state has de­bated for years the no­tion of mov­ing away from the ba­sic build­ing block of education fund­ing in the Key­stone State, the prop­erty tax.

Noth­ing has done the trick. Prop­erty taxes con­tinue to be a mas­sive strain on the bud­gets of se­nior ci­ti­zens who own their homes but strug­gle to pay their ever-in­creas­ing prop­erty taxes.

More im­por­tantly, the state method of fund­ing education – long at­tacked as cre­at­ing an un­fair, un­bal­anced play­ing field that fa­vors well-todo districts and pe­nal­izes a lot of kids in de­pressed ar­eas for no rea­son other than their zip code – is once again be­ing chal­lenged in court.

A law­suit filed by res­i­dents in the Wil­liam Penn School District in Delaware County and sev­eral other across the state is seek­ing to have this an­ti­quated fund­ing for­mula tossed out.

Caught in the mid­dle are school board mem­bers and state leg­is­la­tors who find them­selves un­der the gun from both sides, those seek­ing in­creased fund­ing and pay hikes, coun­tered by those who de­mand they pay at­ten­tion to the bot­tom line, and hold the line on taxes.

For his part, Gov. Tom Wolf spent the first three years in the gov­er­nor’s man­sion push­ing un­suc­cess­fully for tax hikes, in par­tic­u­lar a new levy on the state’s Mar­cel­lus Shale nat­u­ral gas drilling in­dus­try, to boost education fund­ing.

Wolf is now run­ning for re­elec­tion. Not sur­pris­ingly, he has toned down much of his tax in­crease fer­vor.

The ques­tion is be­ing asked in West Vir­ginia, Ok­la­homa, Ken­tucky, Ari­zona and the rest of the na­tion.

How much do we value education? What are we will­ing to pay to achieve it?

And that does not even in­clude the rag­ing de­bate sur­round­ing the cor­re­la­tion be­tween spend­ing, teacher pay and qual­ity of education.

For now the na­tion is watch­ing.

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