End poverty wage for ru­ral teach­ers

The Times-Tribune - - OP-ED - BY RICH ASKEY GUEST COLUM­NIST

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.

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