It’s simple: pay teachers more

So, somehow my 6th grade son learned about the teacher strikes going on in various states.  He asked me, “why don’t we just pay them more?”  My answer, “Republicans.”  Okay, glib, but not too far off based.  Nice Dana Goldstein article on the politics of the latest teacher actions in red states:

An intensifying series of red-state battles over education funding and teacher pay threatens to loosen Republicans’ grip on some of the country’s most conservative states, as educators and parents rebel against a decade of fiscal austerity that has cut deeply into public education.

As Arizona teachers pressed for higher salaries and more school funding, and Oklahoma teachers won some concessions from lawmakers amid a nine-day walkout, some in Kentucky continued their protests in favor of more money for education. Last month, West Virginia’s Republican-controlled government raised pay for teachers after a statewide strike.

The clashes could elevate public education into a major issue in several midterm races this fall. Republicans are defending dozens of governorships and state legislative chambers across the country, including in several Southern and Western states where all-Republican governments have passed sweeping reductions in taxes and spending.

On Wednesday in Chandler, Ariz., a middle class city in the Phoenix suburbs, hundreds of parents and students joined teachers in protesting outside schools. A parent, Christine Clinger Abraham, whose daughter is a senior at Chandler High School, wore a red blouse to show solidarity with the teachers’ #RedforEd movement. “They take so much personal interest in the kids,” Ms. Abraham said, “but they have to have a second job” to make ends meet.

Ms. Abraham typically votes Republican, but said, “I would switch party lines” in order to support candidates who want to increase education funding. “I am very disappointed in the Republican Party we have locally,” she said.

Both Republicans and Democrats in these strongly conservative states see the unrest around education as symptomatic of broader unease about years of budgetary belt-tightening that have followed popular tax cuts…

In Kansas and Oklahoma, backlash against severe service reductions has spurred Republican-held legislatures to enact taxes that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

Gary Jones, the state auditor of Oklahoma and a Republican candidate for governor, said his party had been “irresponsible” in slashing taxes without a plan to make up for lost revenue. That has bitten into public education: some rural districts in Oklahoma have a four-day week, and some schools are rationing paper and cutting foreign language classes.

A former chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, Mr. Jones said Republicans would imperil their hold on the governorship if they did not address voters’ alarm about properly funding public services.

“It’s real easy, politically, to cut taxes,” Mr. Jones said, cautioning that some issues matter more than taxes: “People care about their kids. They care about their futures.”

Paying teachers more is not a panacea to our educational problems, but it would sure help.  Better pay means better prestige means better teachers.  There’s plenty more we should do (I wrote that linked post 3 1/2 years, and upon re-reading I’d say it hold up quite well) regarding teachers, but that’s a good start.

As for the politics of paying teachers more.  There’s a quite substantial majority, roughly 2/3, of Americans that would seem to agree with this.  Not bad.  Additionally, Americans have a very high overall opinion of teachers in general with nearly 80 rating them favorably and almost 60% what we could call very favorably (but my NCSU subscription to Roper Ipoll to good use with this one– need to do more of that).

Of course, it’s easy to favor teachers more on a survey question.  Are Americans really willing to pay teachers more if it means increasing their own taxes, and not just other people’s taxes?  Unclear.  Would love to see a politician unafraid to challenge that proposition (of course, you could say most of the pay increase would come from rich people’s taxes).

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