Across the nation, teachers have taken a breather from gender transition ceremonies and drag queen reading time to hold demonstrations, stage walkouts, and rally against state legislatures. From Kentucky to Colorado, instructors are leaving the classroom to demand higher compensation, better benefits, and improved retirement pay. And it appears they have support from most Americans.
According to an MSN poll, 67% of Americans believe teachers are underpaid, including 77% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans. The survey also found that 64% think teachers should be permitted to strike.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos argued that these protests are taking place “at the expense of kids.” But Lily Eskelson Garcia, the head of the largest teacher’s union in the country, disagrees, noting that educators are being required to do more with less every single year and that this is their only option.
Caving to mob rule and to minimize the poor optics, many governors have already pledged to give teachers a double-digit pay raise and invest hundreds of millions of dollars more into education.
Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ), for instance, has promised to increase teacher compensation by 20% within two years, boosting average salaries to just under $60,000. Colorado lawmakers will spend an extra $425 million, in addition to the $6.635 billion approved funding, this coming school year. The Centennial State currently spends more than $10,000 per student.
As the poll suggests, the average person would surmise that this is a reasonable compromise. If you want to be elected or re-elected, you need to agree with the following statement: teachers are underpaid and overworked. If not, you know your political aspirations will dwindle.
Assessing Teacher Compensation in America
In any free market, if a job doesn’t pay enough and the workers feel their human capital is sufficient, people don’t apply for them. But this isn’t happening.
Nationwide, there are 3.2 million full-time teachers, overall education employment has skyrocketed over the last 30 years, the pupil-to-teacher ratio is 16.1, and many districts receive a minimum of four applications for every one job. If teachers were incredibly underpaid, why would they still apply in these fields or even continue their employment?
The average annual salary for a teacher is $55,000, plus the myriad of benefits and time off. The average annual income for all Americans across all jobs is $52,000, and many private-sector workers are not afforded the same luxuries as public-sector teachers and overall government workers.
Teachers are paid more than registered nurses, bankruptcy specialists, pharmacy technicians, and ophthalmic technicians. Where’s the outrage?
Many analysts make the argument that teacher salaries are lower when compared to private-sector employees with the same level of education and experience. A November 2011 Heritage Foundation study discovered several interesting findings when examining this argument:
- Public-school teachers earn more than private-sector teachers.
- Workers who transition from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs see their pay jump 9%.
- Teachers who shift to non-teaching gigs receive a 3% decrease in wages.
- Any wage gap between teachers and everyone else vanishes when they’re measured on cognitive abilities rather than years of education.
Moreover, many experts fail to factor in generous benefits when assessing compensation. The biggest factor is the defined-benefit plan, a retirement account that forces taxpayers to cover the monthly tab in retirement. Meanwhile, job security increases a typical teacher’s wages by as much as 8.6%, while retiree health coverage for teachers adds another 10% to wages.
It is no secret that these immense retirement pensions are affecting state and municipal budgets nationwide. The U.S. state pension funding gap surged to $1.4 trillion in 2016, and it could spike to just under $2 trillion by next year. Nationally, unfunded liabilities and expenditures total $200 trillion.
It is evident a crisis looms over America, but teachers are indifferent as long as they get theirs.
Unfortunately, history shows that teachers and their unions keep coming back for more.
America’s Report Card
The U.S. government spends $634 billion on elementary and secondary schools. This is equal to about $13,000 per student, which is $4,000 more than what the average Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member spends.
This must mean the U.S. education system is the envy of the world, right? Wrong.
According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. ranks just above the OECD average in science and reading, and the nation falls way under the average in mathematics. It gets worse.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that 67% of fourth-grade students cannot read at a proficient level, and 34% cannot even accomplish the lowest basic level of literacy skills.
Despite ranking near the top of education spending and annual hours of instruction, the public has nothing to show for it. Students lag behind the rest of the world in every subject. Little Jimmy can barely read, write, or do rudimentary arithmetic. And this isn’t a recent trend; grades have been slipping since the government started spending more in the 1970s.
The Water-Diamond Paradox
Most people would say that a Biloxi, Mississippi teacher should be worth more than a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. But the price of labor isn’t set by the free market based on moral worth.
Economists cite the water-diamond paradox to explain this idea. Water is essential to survive, while diamonds are unnecessary. However, when comparing their value, a diamond is worth a lot more than water. Why? Marginal utility, an economic law that explains the benefit received from consuming one extra unit of a particular good. The marginal utility of a product diminishes the more we consume it, and, thus, the price we are willing to pay for the unit also tumbles.
Thankfully, we never have to choose between all the water in the world and all the diamonds.
How does this relate to a kindergarten teacher from Biloxi and a starting pitcher for the Red Sox?
If given the option, we’d value all the teachers more than all the baseball players. But we don’t have to. Therefore, the value of the Biloxi kindergarten teacher would be lower than a closer for the Red Sox. The former can easily be replaced, while the latter is a lot more difficult – most people can differentiate between red and blue, but most people can’t throw a 103-mph fastball or toss a knuckle curveball.
Teachers Are Not Underpaid
In the end, teachers are not underpaid.
When you factor in everything – salary, benefits, pension, schedule, and job security – they are remunerated at a more than fair rate. Considering that cash-strapped taxpayers are footing the bill and the kids are not meeting the standards, teachers should be a bit more grateful for what they have.
One can only imagine if the free market produced the same results as the government education system. If the market had kids for 13 years and couldn’t get them to memorize the multiplication table, have an elementary understanding of American history, or even to point to Australia on a map, you can bet the mortgage that activists, politicians, and unions would be out for blood on the streets.
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