For districts, teacher pay can't always be a top priority
- In recent years, more governors have been increasing education funding in their states, but that boost doesn’t always reach teachers' pockets in the form of pay raises. In an Education Week article, superintendents, school board members and district chief financial officers share why raising teacher salaries is not always a priority.
- One issue district leaders have to consider is whether the increased state funding is a one-time initiative or a recurring measure. Efforts to hike teacher salaries long-term must be sustainable, and if there's insufficient funding in the long term, officials will either have to deplete savings or beg for more money in the future.
- Another issue is competing district priorities that school leaders have to consider when dealing with a limited supply of funds. That could include backfilling positions lost during the recession; reducing class sizes, which is sometimes needed to comply with state laws; fulfilling pension obligations; and increasing spending on resources like ed tech and professional development trainings, in addition to bumping up teacher pay.
As the effects of the recession fade, and more attention is being drawn to district, teacher and student needs, many states are reevaluating school funding formulas — an issue that has been on the back burner for a number of years — and increasing allocation amounts. Right now, most states spend considerably more on prisons than they do on education. And as state lawmakers ponder topics like prison reform, they may want to consider redirecting some of those funds or examining other sources to school initiatives that can help reduce offenses in the first place. In addition, other funding sources — property and income taxes, as well as sports betting revenues, are some currently up for debate — can also help to increase school funding amounts.
After school funding policy passes through the state legislature, education leaders often juggle many priorities in determining where the money goes. More funding is inherently more valuable to schools, but only if that money is well spent. In figuring out how much goes where, superintendents may need to reevaluate how top-heavy their districts are and how much money is actually reaching the classroom. They also must examine factors including pension obligations, and students' needs, which vary widely from one school district to another. That can sometimes mean teacher salaries don't make the cut. However, critics say teacher pay should be a priority, and it's been proven that giving teachers more money can boost student performance.
Another issue districts must consider is the long-term impact of increasing teacher salaries. While funding methods vary from state to state, some set minimum amounts at the state level and supplement them locally. And if salaries increase at the state level, those percentage-based supplements, which come out of districts' pockets, increase as well. Plus, when teacher salaries increase at any level, retirement benefits — and the price tag that comes with them — often increase as well.
While teachers, in many cases, need and deserve more money than they're getting, they also need to be aware of the issues that surround the teacher pay debate, and they must be willing to compromise if necessary. For instance, money spent on providing benefits, reducing class sizes, increasing support staff, providing better tools for education and improving professional development opportunities all benefit teachers in ways that cannot be measured financially. As district leaders wrestle with difficult priority lists, they need to maintain open communication with their staff to better understand their needs and to help explain the bigger picture when it comes to spending decisions.