Craig Ford - Remembering our educators this Thanksgiving

November 25, 2015 chris
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In our house at Thanksgiving, our family likes to sit around the table and name the things we are thankful for in our life. Of course, everyone always names the big things like family, our freedom and so on. But the things that I’m most thankful for are the people in my life who have made a difference – the people I work with, those serving in the church and the military just to name a few. But this year, I am especially thankful for our educators.

It’s not just how teachers have shaped my own life, or how I’ve watched them shape the lives of my children. It’s that they do this job year after year, each year with more expectations, fewer resources and less in their pockets. But they don’t complain because, for them, teaching isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.

From teaching our children how to read, to helping them fall in love with math and science, teachers are a vital part of our community.

I am truly grateful for these people who give so much of their time, their personal money and their talents to our children. And I think it’s time for our state leaders to show them how much we appreciate them.

The state legislative budget chairmen have said that they don’t think there is enough money to give our educators and retirees a raise this year. But these are the same Republican legislators who have gone throughout the state claiming they have saved us over a billion dollars by eliminating waste and increasing classroom sizes. Then they raised over $180 million in new taxes. So what happened to all that money?

These same Republican legislators talk about how we have an education budget surplus, then turn around and tell us we can’t afford to give our educators a small raise? I just don’t understand that math.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice has said a raise needs to be a priority. He’s right! Our educators and retirees haven’t seen a raise since 2007. In 2011, Republican legislators voted to cut their pay 2.5 percent to cover increases in health care costs. A couple of years ago, they gave 2 percent back, so educators are still operating under a half a percent pay cut from what they were making eight years ago! And that doesn’t factor in the higher cost of living these days.

Alabama is behind the times when it comes to paying our educators, and it cannot continue. We will continue to lose our best and brightest teachers to other states and other professions if we do not implement an across the board raise while we have the money.

If things stay the way they are, then we continue to hear more and more stories like Ann Marie Corgill, a finalist for the 2015 National Teacher Of The Year, and Alabama’s statewide winner, who resigned from the Birmingham City Schools in part because the finance department did not pay her for two months!

I don’t think there are many people who would continue to work a very demanding job, clocking in well over 40 hours per week, without getting paid for two months.

Ann Marie’s story got attention because she was a finalist for National Teacher Of The Year. But we lose great teachers every year because they can make more money doing something else. Nurses, accountants, computer programmers and other college graduates start out making between $10,000 – $15,000 more per year than a first-year teacher. That’s a significant difference! And the gap only gets wider the more years they put into their profession.

So this year, as we all gather with our loved ones and remember what we are thankful for, let’s remember our educators as well. Without their time, money and talents, the future of our state would look quite different. Our educators have one of the most important jobs in our community – caring for our children, helping them to grow and teaching them the things they need to be successful in life. It’s time our state leaders showed them our gratitude by paying them what they are worth.

Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.