By Craig Ford
Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey said last week that Alabama’s public school teachers are “overwhelmingly well-qualified.” His assessment came after the State Department of Education issued its latest report cards on the college and university programs that prepare our teachers.
Our public school teachers do a great job; there’s no doubt about that. And for those of us who have had one or more children grow up in and graduate from our public schools, we know how hard our educators work and how much they sacrifice for our children.
It’s a shame, then, that our educators lag behind educators in other states when it comes to how much we pay them.
While an entry-level teachers’ pay in Alabama is similar to our neighboring states, our teachers quickly get left behind on the pay scale after the first few years.
A recent survey showed that one in five elementary school teachers will quit within five years of starting their teaching careers. The numbers are even worse for high school teachers, where 50 percent of graduates quit within five years, according to the Post Primary Teachers Association.
One of the main reasons so many young teachers quit is because they are not getting paid what they are worth.
And it isn’t just teachers who have reached that five or 10-year mark in their careers. Alabama’s educators and retirees across the board are making less today than they did 10 years ago.
The cost of living is rising faster than the pay raises that have been given. On top of that, every time the state legislature passes a pay raise, the state’s PEEHIP Board erases it by raising educators’ health insurance costs.
It’s a vicious cycle that, when combined with the challenging working conditions placed on our educators, causes many teachers to simply leave the profession.
But losing teachers and support personnel isn’t just a problem for the schools. It’s a problem for employers who rely on our schools to produce the next generation of employees. And it’s a problem for parents who want their kids to have the best education and the best future they can possibly have.
Our teachers are too good at what they do – and what they do is too important to our future – for us to lose them simply because we don’t pay them what they are worth.
Thankfully, many legislators understand that, and are committed to passing a teacher pay raise this spring.
Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who is chairman of the state senate’s education budget committee, has said that passing a pay raise for our educators would be a priority in the next legislative session.
Passing a pay raise is a priority for me, as well – not just for our teachers and support personnel but for our retirees, ho have not received a pay raise in more than a decade!
Last year, our state employees received a one-time “bonus check,” and education retirees have received a similar one-time “bonus check” in the past. But a one-time payment does not make up for a decade of going without a pay raise.
Our educators have one of the most important jobs in our society in ensuring the brightest possible future for every child. They take their jobs seriously and put up with a lot, from bureaucratic red tape to even having to pay for some basic classroom supplies out of their own pockets, because they are devoted to helping every child achieve his or her potential.
Our educators and education retirees are professionals and deserve to be treated as such. If we don’t take care of them, then who will take care of our children and look after their education?
Our educators are dedicated and “overwhelmingly well-qualified.” So why aren’t we paying them what they are worth?
Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He currently is running for the State Senate in District 10 as an Independent.