As was the case with minimum wage workers several years ago, teachers are going on strike across the nation. Many people are left confused as to why they would bother. These individuals make decent salaries, have good benefits, and they get summers off. Right? So then, what’s the problem? The truth is that it’s not that simple.
Degrees Required – Salary Not Guaranteed
A college degree is a teaching requirement in most places. However, the pay for teachers doesn’t measure up to other careers with similar education requirements. Their salaries have also been devalued by 2 to 3 percent over the past few decades. Teachers currently make an average of $59,660 per year but those who live in states where they are striking are paid much less.
Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona pay their teachers an average annual salary of less than $53,000. However, in Colorado, the cost of living has significantly outpaced the average teacher salary and is contributing to the problems there.
The Cost of Time
There is also the fact that teachers put in much longer hours than a lot of their contemporaries, but their salaries don’t show it. Bryan Eason’s recent article on pbs.org pretty much summed up the situation:"Teachers are being asked to work longer hours at lower pay than their predecessors for benefits that are steadily being whittled away."
Many educators spend lots of time dealing with work related paperwork outside their normal business hours. They are also required to attend many school-sponsored events such as parent-teacher conferences and special programs. An average work week for teachers is about 53.3 hours, compared to the 42.3 hour week for other working professionals.
However, teachers’ basic take-home pay clearly isn’t enough. A whopping 44.5 percent of educators take on another school-related job to make ends meet and 17.9 percent work elsewhere in their spare time.
Where’s The Money?
Kentucky and West Virginia have increased their tax spending per student, but this generally hasn’t equaled higher pay for educators. In Oklahoma, teacher salaries rose about 4 percent as a result of significantly increased education spending. Meanwhile, Arizona has tried to reduce their academic budget.
Employee benefits and retirement packages make up some of the cost difference when it comes to what tax payers are spending and the salaries that teachers are currently receiving. These benefits don’t always translate to higher take home pay. But in Colorado, Arizona, and Kentucky, the strikes have a lot to do with the fact that legislators are trying to reduce teacher benefits.
Schools in some of the striking states have also added a high percentage of extra staff in recent years, even if their enrollment has fallen. Spreading the available money over larger and larger groups of staff could be part of the problem as well.
Contrary to popular belief, teachers don’t get a paid summer vacation. They are paid for the days that they work over the course of the year.They can either receive this sum during those months or choose to have their paycheck spread out over the year in order to cover the difference.
Another problem is that teachers regularly pay for school supplies out of their own pocket. This costs them an average $530 per year. However, some teachers are spending up to a $1,000 annually on supplies. While there are some districts that cover a small fraction of the cost and some teachers who get by on public donations, educators are generally on their own when it comes to buying much-needed extras for their classroom. These costs naturally add up over time.
But the question remains, how much are we willing to pay so that our kids get a good education?
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