"There once was a teacher of great renown ..." — from "The Teacher," as performed by Paul Simon
Teachers in West Virginia have returned to the classroom after a nine-day wage strike. Teachers in Oklahoma staged a walkout earlier this month. At this writing, teacher walkouts in Arizona and Colorado are planned for the next few days. There’s a sense that these public employees have been dissatisfied for some time now. Why these protests are coalescing simultaneously is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, thank you Robert Zimmerman, it's “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Oklahoma's minimum teacher salary starts at $31,600 and can go up to $46,000. Granted, it costs far less to live in rural Oklahoma than in New York, a state whose teachers are compensated better than any other. So, some argue that teachers in states like Oklahoma should be paid far less. But $31,000, even in Oklahoma, doesn’t afford a lavish lifestyle.
How much should we pay those who educate our young people? If we really care about the quality of education our kids are receiving, should we demonstrate that concern by reallocating funds in state budget sessions?
Many people say, “What’s in it for me? I don’t have kids,” or, “My kids are grown. Why do I care about teacher salaries and school funding?” And it’s an understandable stance. But here’s a thought: even if we don’t currently have children in school, we can all appreciate living in better communities. A better educated population saves us money. It’s a good economic decision. Investing in teacher salaries and schools means less unemployment, less crime, more productive taxpayers, more educated decisions being made about health care choices. These are all issues that end up costing us taxpayers a huge amount of money.
So is increasing teacher pay the only answer? No, of course not. Education, like all industries, faces a myriad of challenges beyond compensation. Difficult, complicated issues hound our educational institutions at every level. But one wonders what caliber of instructor could be recruited if starting salaries approached, say, $75,000 a year? How would our young people be impacted? In what ways would it reshape our culture?
In many countries, teachers are widely respected, and it is understood that their calling is an indispensable and valuable one. Here, we ask quite a lot of our teachers, including serving as bullet proof warriors and oftentimes funding their own materials when school supplies aren’t available, but we don’t compensate them particularly well. As an investment advisor, I work with educators, and I haven’t met one who didn't go into his or her own pocket countless times to buy needed educational supplies or for students.
Paying teachers more is like funding public libraries. They don’t normally turn a profit. But who wants to live in a community without one?
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.