If you are a teacher, you’ve probably seen the satirical article, or seen a meme, or noticed a friend’s post on social media documenting how we should pay teachers for what they are – babysitters. To those who have not read or seen any of the sort, I’ll summarize it for you. If we paid teachers the way we would a babysitter, $10 an hour for each kid, the average teacher would make about $378,000 annually.
That’s right. A teacher getting paid $10 per hour to babysit 30 kids, seven hours per day, would make $2,100 per day. The average school year is 180 days. I’d take that salary. Of course, this would come at a cost of roughly $12,600 annually per family.
This idea got my wheels turning. We obviously aren’t going to ask families to pay more than $12,000 for a public education for which most are already paying taxes, but what about an alternative.
Paying teachers more would improve the teaching profession and public education. It’s common sense. The research suggests so as well, even though the research on this issue is limited, largely due to the fact that teachers are notoriously underpaid considering their job requirements and education levels. Most of the research compares undercompensated teachers to grossly undercompensated teachers.
So what’s the alternative and how can it help? What if communities were allowed to pass a special tax to compensate, recruit, and retain great teachers? What if districts, or schools, were allowed to charge a fee to do the same?
For example. Where I live, Louisville, Kentucky, we have roughly 760,000 residents. If my community was able to create a special tax for qualifying residents, we could be the top destination for teachers and encourage talented individuals who may have pursued other careers, to become teachers. Let’s hypothetically say 150,000 residents pay the qualifying tax based on income, and that tax is the equivalent of $5 per pay check. That would raise nearly $20 million. Also, have employers in Louisville pay a matching tax per employee, and that’s another $20 million. That’s $40 million. Distributing that $40 million among 6,700 teachers would result in a near $6,000 pay bump.
However, I say don’t distribute that money across all 6,700 teachers. More money can’t come without more accountability, so distribute that money across only tenured teachers, or teachers with master’s degrees, or create a tiered system of teachers in which those who have proven themselves receive the pay bump. This would increase the salaries of our best and more experienced teachers, which would give an incentive to remain in their position and create much needed stability and consistency.
The tax contribution I suggested is conservative and could be increased further depending on the community and its buy in and needs. However, there is another option. A school-based fee for parents.
School-based fees exist for all sorts of reasons, ranging from text books to sports. A fee to increase deserving teachers’ pay would help create stability and consistency within an individual school and help recruit and retain quality teachers. I teach in a school with about 1,300 students and 65 or so certified teachers. A fee of $450 per student for the entire school year would generate $585,000, or $9,000 per certified teacher. Again, more money comes with more accountability and proven effective teaching, but lower-income schools would see greater benefits from teacher retention. Many low-performing and high-poverty schools, turnover their entire staff in a matter of a few years.
I can hear you now. What about schools with high levels of poverty? How could they afford this type of fee? Paying a school-fee of $450 a year comes to $12.50 per week for the school year, or $8.65 per week over the entire year. This minimal cost would be worth the investment.
Compensation is the driving force behind career choices of most of our talented individuals. To increase the talent pool of teachers and to keep the most talented in the classroom, we must get creative and innovative about how we create revenue. The cost for public education continues to rise and we are spending more on education than ever, but less on teachers than ever. Of the factors we control, the classroom teacher has the greatest impact on student achievement. So why not invest our money where we will get our greatest returns?