End poverty wage for rural teachers
Step into my Delorean and travel back in time with me — back to 1989 when gas still cost about a buck a gallon, George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev were working out an end to the Cold War, and “Back to the Future II” was taking us on a high-speed journey through time.
Think about how much has changed over the past 30 years
Teachers work with higher percentages of students with special needs and students who speak English as a second language. The share of Pennsylvania children living in poverty has risen. School safety is a major concern.
And teachers keep learning, needing 180 hours of continuing professional education or six credits of college-level coursework every five years to keep their certificates current.
One thing that hasn’t changed is what we pay some teachers. Pennsylvania’s minimum teacher salary was set by law in 1989 at $18,500 per year. That is well below what other similarly educated professionals earn today.
With higher expectations and lower starting salaries, it’s no wonder that Pennsylvania is experiencing a growing teacher shortage. If we want to recruit and retain the best and brightest to teach our students, we must be willing to pay these professionals what they are worth.
Otherwise, more young Pennsylvania graduates are going to be tempted to look at better-paying teaching jobs in neighboring states. In Maryland, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is proposing a $60,000 minimum starting salary by 2024.
A raise in Pennsylvania’s minimum teacher salary is long overdue.
That’s why I’m glad Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing it to $45,000 a year. He believes that teachers who work hard and commit to education should be paid as the professionals they are.
His plan would be statefunded and only cost the equivalent of one-quarter of 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s basic education funding — less than half a penny on the dollar. It would put more cashstrapped school districts in urban and rural parts of the state on par with wealthier districts. This would lift the wages of more than 5,000 experienced educators in 288 school districts. Half of them have more than three years of experience, and three out of four are women.
Nobody chooses a career in education to make big bucks, but for these educators, the gaps between what they make compared to other college-educated professionals in the state is staggering
The educators impacted by this proposal have a median salary that is nearly 12 percent less than the statewide median salary of Pennsylvanians with bachelor’s degrees. About a quarter of these educators hold master’s degrees, and their median salary is about 44 percent less than the statewide median salary of Pennsylvanians with master’s degrees.
These teachers should not have to take on second jobs to make ends meet, but that is very often what they do, cutting into time they would spend with their families. They often have trouble paying rent, student loans, and necessities like groceries and gas. Our teachers deserve better.
Raising the minimum salary is not only fair for educators, it’s good for students, too. Research shows that teachers play a vital role in student success.
So, the governor’s proposal is a win-win-win. More teachers will be paid fairly. More students will benefit from having great educators. And more struggling school districts will be better able to recruit talented young teachers.
So, on second thought, let’s leave the Delorean in the garage, and stay right here in the future. We don’t need to go back in time to know that teachers should be treated like the professionals they are and paid what they are worth.
ASKEY Rich Askey is A music teacher in the Harrisburg School District And president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.