We as a society love teachers. They are the nurturers of talent. The cultivators of intelligence. The rudder that steers this nation’s future generations. They represent some of our fondest memories. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the sacrifice that we are making as a nation to get our finances back on track.
Let me repeat: they must be part of the sacrifice. Unfortunately, the Obama administration doesn’t think so. Instead, they have chosen to use teacher’s as a national lightning rod. Teachers hold a revered place within our psyche. We assume that what is best for them is best for the nation. Because of that fundamental, and consistently unquestioned belief within each of us, Democrats have backed Republicans into a corner.
They recently passed a $26 billion state aid bill, a significant chunk of which went towards teacher salaries. The Obama administration has been everywhere trying to sell this talking point. Look at all the teachers’ jobs we saved! Look how much we care about education and about creating a strong foundation for tomorrow! They’ve been like a Snuggie infomercial – everywhere.
Consider these tidbits of propaganda from the Organizing for America’s website,
“Teachers, firefighters, police officers and the communities they serve can breath a little easier today, thanks to President Obama signing into law emergency aid for states and preventing layoffs scheduled for this fall.”
Or this line from President Obama,
“We can’t stand by and do nothing wile pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children.”
The question is, how did we get to this point? How did we get to the point where we need to bail out teachers?
Money is often said to be the root of all evil. In Washington the opposite is believed to be true – money is the root of all solutions. For instance, consider that spending per student has increased by 49 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 20 years. Despite the increases long-term measures of academic achievement have not improved at anything resembling a comparable level. And although we constantly hear that “teachers are chronically underpaid,” have we ever stopped to question whether they in fact are?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics elementary school teacher salaries increased from $46,990 to $52,240 between 2005 and 2008. Or consider that in 2005 the average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker. Using that same 2005 data we find that the average net monthly income for a United States’ teacher was almost $1,000 more than a UK teacher and about $1,8000 more than a Canadian teacher.
Given these statistics it is little wonder that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had this to say recently:
“This teacher complaining, they’re getting 4 and 5 percent salary increases a year. In a 0 percent inflation world. . . They get free health benefits from the day they’re hired for their entire family until the day they die. They believe they are entitled to this shelter from the recession when the people who are paying for that shelter are the people who have been laid off, who’ve lost their homes, had their hours cut back.”
Now, let me clarify what I am, and am not, saying. I’m not saying that teacher’s aren’t incredibly important cogs in the social machine. I’m not saying that they aren’t worth every penny they’ve earned. And I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t be a priority in the recovery. What I am saying is that our nation as a whole is going to have to make sacrifices and teachers, whose pay represents an enormous part of state budget expenditures, must be part of that sacrifice.
Part of that sacrifice is accepting a wage freeze. That is all Chris Christie asked of them. That is all we would need to ask of teachers nationwide. Accept a wage freeze and I guarantee that we would not be forced into a position where we must lay off teachers to keep the budget in the black. That is the real problem. We’ve been presented with a false choice. Obama would have you believe that if we don’t give the states another $26 billion then teachers would be fired. In reality, if state employees were willing to make an initial sacrifice, a sacrifice many private sector workers have made without even being presented with a choice, we wouldn’t need to spend more federal money that we don’t have.
I know criticizing teachers is taboo. I know President Obama will likely be praised to high heaven for his bold steps to protect the undervalued profession. But I also know we are in up to our necks in red ink and I just wish government employees would join us in making sacrifices.
by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee