Teachers are worth more than they get paid

Published 8:48 am Monday, May 6, 2019

We live in a society that places a high monetary value on everything it seems, except education. Teachers are among some of the lowest-paid professionals in this country, yet the work they do is arguably among the most important.
There has been more money set aside in Tennessee for teacher pay in recent years — but some educators never saw the pay increase lawmakers desired.
That is because almost $300 million for compensation approved by lawmakers since 2016 wasn’t always used for teacher pay by districts, according to a new report by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.
The comptroller report released Tuesday points to a practice many educators already knew — districts also spend the money for annual increases on adding other instructional personnel not covered by the state.
The decision made by districts stretches state-provided money over a larger pool of educators and dampens the impact the $300 million has had for raises on the existing pool of teachers.
The choice is necessary, educators say, because the state provides far less money than is adequate to run a district.
The comptroller report highlights the struggles for school districts across Tennessee as they try to balance salaries and also pay for more employees not covered by the state’s Basic Education Program formula. The formula is a rubric used by the state to determine money allocated to schools and their needs.
“Because districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP,” the report said. “The same phenomenon applies to districts that give across-the-board raises to teachers.”
Teacher pay has increased over 6% across the state, according to the report, making Tennessee the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries from 2015 to 2018.
Districts aren’t required to dole out raises to teachers and instead the money can be used to cover costs such as insurance or new personnel. Statewide, insurance and retirement costs have increased — and districts have used the salary money for those items.
The state requires certain things for schools and a student’s education, such as requirements for class sizes. But the state provides a percentage of the needed money to pay for it all, meaning districts must fund the rest.
And counties pay for education based on their ability to fund it at the local level, which puts some counties on the hook to provide more money for students than others.
Despite Tennessee ranking 39th in the country in the National Education Association’s teacher salary data for 2016-2017, there has been a push statewide in recent years to commit more funding to education.
In 2016-2017, the average salary for a public school teacher in the U.S. was $58,950, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. The average salary for a teacher in Tennessee was $48,456.
However, most school districts acknowledge that in order to recruit and retain teachers — something that the district has increased its efforts toward with the hiring of two recruitment coordinators in the past year — better pay is key.
Some might say such a small increase doesn’t make much difference, but it is a nod to the rising cost of living and the fact that teachers and other school employees deserve to be valued. With a more modest tax base, it’s sometimes difficult for smaller school districts, such as Carter County, to provide the resources and competitive salaries needed to keep good teachers.
If you doubt the impact of educators, think back to your favorite teacher. Most of us can speak to the difference they made in our lives.
Teachers should be among the best paid public employees in any state. Sadly, they are not. Compared to what a U.S. Senator or Representative makes, teacher pay is quite low, yet most accomplish much more than our elected officials in Washington.

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