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Teachers Want a Raise

In case you missed it, there is a teacher revolt occurring in your state, or a state near you. Teachers want raises, big ones, and they want them now.

It started with a nearly two week teacher walk out in West Virginia for a 5% pay increase and now has emboldened public school teachers in other states like Oklahoma, where teachers continue to threaten to strike even after being given a $6,000 a year bump, to Arizona, where they are asking for an immediate, whopping 20 percent pay increase.

Many Americans, including me and other parents of school age children, want to see public school teachers paid fairly. They should be. That is not what this column is about. As they have shown in Oklahoma, teachers - led by their unions - will keep coming back to the table demanding more, even if they are given a 20 percent raise; because these movements are as much about elections as teacher pay. Regardless, teachers deserve a fair process, with a seat at the table alongside each state's citizenry, elected representatives and school boards in determining current or future pay raises.

When that happens, or as various states look at teacher pay, here are five suggestions which are appropriate, responsible, and bring transparency to the use of finite tax payer dollars. First, what is their total benefit package? Negotiations on pay increases should always include the costs of benefits attached to a teacher. These include things like sick leave, health insurance, pensions, etc. For example, many public educators have excellent health insurance plans. According to a Henry Kaiser Family Foundation study in September 2017, the “average family premiums for employer sponsored health insurance plans … averaged $18,764” in 2017.  Due to the number of public school teachers in your state, they may get a sweeter deal on annual costs. That being said, how does it compare to your health insurance package? We have not even touched upon pensions that are owed teachers. These benefits cost money and should be transparent to taxpayers.

Second, what is their hourly wage?  When you take out the summer months off, what is their real hourly wage? Like the private sector, some teachers put in tremendous hours, others, do not go above and beyond.  So, what is the right average hourly wage? It should be appropriate to a professional, but must take into account total benefits.

Third, what percentage of public education dollars actually goes to teachers? How much gets to the classroom, and how much goes elsewhere? The U.S. Department of Education estimates that in most states over 40 percent of public education dollars do not go to teacher’s salaries or into the classrooms. Teachers need to be the priority, and schools need to consider cutting anything and everything else in pursuit of the best teachers.