Low Teacher Salaries have a High Cost

I caught an interesting article in the New York Times discussing what the cost of paying teachers low salaries will end up costing us. I think that it is pretty much common knowledge that there are a number of areas in which if you pay a little now it can save you from have to pay more later. The best example is making sure to have oil changes in your car on a regular basis. For the $20 that it cost every few months for an oil change you can save the $1000 or more it will cost later to have your entire engine re-built.

Some interesting quotes from the article include:

“At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent lessthan professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible. “

I had to re-read that part about getting paid similar wages as a toll taker or a bartender. Now I like to have a cocktail as much as the next person but I have hard time believing that we can value a bartender’s services as much as a teacher.

Perhaps even wilder information comes from this quote:

“Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating. “

This is a perfect example of the short sightedness that comes from some in our political class these days. While keeping the primary focus on what costs are for the next 12 to 18 months we are selling our country short for the long term. If you were told today that if we paid teachers the 30% more that in one generation we would have a citizenry that would be productive enough to increase national production by 60% wouldn’t that sound like a reasonable investment?

If we could empower people to be in a position to earn more through their lives won’t the additional costs pay for themselves? I mean it can’t be just cutting taxes that can increase revenue.

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