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Teacher salary increase makes sense in Shawnee County, elsewhere E-mail
Opinion
Friday, 08 September 2017 09:08


A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal



In the U.S., the average starting salary for K-12 teachers is in the mid-$30,000 range. To college students who are trying to decide what they want to do with their lives, this meager pay suggests that our society doesn't value the work teachers do. And to people who've already decided to become teachers, it makes the mid-career switch to a higher-paying profession much more attractive. Many workers who have comparable levels of education (such as registered nurses, insurance appraisers and counselors) make considerably more money.

According to a 2016 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute, this gap has only been widening since the mid-1990s. In 1994, public school teachers' weekly wages were 1.8 percent lower than workers in comparable fields — a number that exploded to 17 percent by 2015.

Even when you factor in the superior benefits teachers often receive, the differential remains around 11.1 percent. Moreover, EPI found that there wasn't a single state in the country where teachers could expect to make more than the average salary of college graduates. Kansas is in the bottom 15 on this measure — our teachers make an average of 73.9 percent as much as other graduates.

Average, inflation-adjusted weekly wages for teachers actually decreased between 1996 and 2015 — not a promising sign for college students who are considering teaching. However, this doesn't mean states are investing less in education overall — as per-pupil spending has risen across the country, teacher salaries have remained static. While people often note that teachers get summers "off" and don't work a traditional nine-to-five schedule, this argument ignores the fact that a substantial proportion of teachers have to work second jobs, tutor, etc. during the summer. They also frequently pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, and some of them even work a second job during the school year.

These are just a few of the reasons why the recent pay increases for teachers at Shawnee County school districts — as well as districts across Kansas — should be welcomed by taxpayers.

Teachers at USD 501 will receive a 4.4 percent salary increase, while Shawnee Heights USD 450 teachers will receive 2.5 percent; Silver Lake USD 372 will receive 2.4 percent; and Auburn-Washburn USD 437 will receive 4.7 percent. This money is available as a result of the state's new school finance formula, which lawmakers passed in June.

Silver Lake superintendent Tim Hallacy points out that the pay increase is crucial after districts have been dealing with block grants and budget cuts: "Our salaries have been stagnant for the past six or seven years. We're grateful to put more money toward salaries."

Kansas has dealt with several teacher shortages over the past few years, and legislation passed in 2013 has allowed districts to hire unlicensed teachers. In 2015, more than 3,700 teachers retired or left the state, and some districts struggled to replace them. One Kansas City school board member argued that the profession isn't attracting enough college graduates: "They're not paid enough for college graduates . they're not as highly respected as they should be." Even if teacher recruitment and retention weren't issues in our state, increasing teacher pay would still be the right thing to do.

It's long past time to start valuing our teachers more, and giving them fair compensation is the best place to start.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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