We’ve previously discussed how teachers are relatively well-paid and how the structure of their pay does not promote quality teaching. To be sure, teachers aren’t paid like doctors, but they also aren’t paid like fast food workers. If computed on a weekly basis, teachers are paid slightly above the average professional specialty and technical worker (the group in which they are classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). But on an annual basis they are paid less.
During these times of economic turmoil and anxiety, it is worth emphasizing a non-monetary aspect of teacher compensation that also adds to the relative appeal of the profession — teachers are essentially guaranteed continued employment with a gradually increasing salary regardless of economic conditions. That certainty of employment with an ever-increasing wage makes up for some of the perceived or real shortcomings of teacher salaries. If you don’t believe me, just ask the bank employee, insurance agent, or restaurant manager who are about to find themselves out of a job how much salary they would forsake for the guarantee of continued employment.
Teachers are essentially guaranteed employment despite economic conditions because education spending is almost never cut and, even if it is, teachers are the last thing to be cut within the education budget. In more than half the states the courts have intervened in education budgets, interpreting vague clauses in state constitutions about an “adequate” or “efficient” public education system as compelling certain levels of education spending. In those states policymakers dare not cut education spending for fear of being slapped by the courts. In Arkansas, the court has even compelled the state legislature to increase K-12 education spending by at least the level of inflation. Colorado has a similar mandate.
No one else has this guaranteed claim on resources. Even other essential state functions, like law enforcement or road construction can be cut if state revenue drops. Not education. They’ll get more almost no matter what.
And within the education budget tenured teachers are essentially guaranteed their jobs and ever-increasing pay. In almost every school district the contract or state law mandate a step and lane pay schedule that pays teachers more every year they remain employed. If teachers basically can’t lose their jobs and if the system pays them more each year, they enjoy a benefit that almost no other profession enjoys. When thinking about whether more tax dollars should be devoted to increase teacher compensation further, we should remember these non-monetary benefits of guaranteed employment with ever-increasing salaries.
I should note that university professors are another occupation that enjoy essentially guaranteed employment, although not with a guarantee of annual salary increases. And I admit that I benefit from this assured employment, even as I think it has negative effects on higher education. But at the same time you won’t hear me arguing that university professors are woefully underpaid and are entitled to an ever-increasing amount of tax-payer dollars.
Right now almost all tax-payers are suffering in their own economic circumstances. It is just unseemly to see educators demanding more and more even as the pool of available resources becomes smaller and smaller.