By Craig Ford
The education budget passed by lawmakers in the final days of the 2019 legislative session is the largest in terms of dollars that the state has ever spent (though, when factoring in inflation, we still are not spending as much as we did before the 2008 recession).
For the most part, the budget is a good one. Pre-K, school buses and transportation, K-12 classrooms and school libraries are all getting a boost in 2020. But educators, and particularly retirees, are still being left behind.
Yes, the budget includes a four-percent raise for teachers, allowing starting teachers to make over $40,000 a year for the first time ever.
But two years ago, the national average pay for a tea-cher was $59,850. In fact, Alabama is only just now reaching what the national average of pay for teachers was 20 years ago!
When you compare a tea-cher to a nurse, accountant, engineer or any other profession that has similar levels of education and licensing requirements, it’s clear that our educators are being paid well below what they are worth. And our retirees haven’t seen a cost-of-living increase in over 10 years!
That is one of the reasons why Alabama is suffering a teacher shortage, especially in the fields of math and science.
Other neighboring states simply pay better and offer better benefits, including better retirement pay and benefits. As a result, more and more educators are getting their degrees and training here and then leaving to go teach in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida or Mississippi.
There’s no reason whatsoever why we can’t pay our educators and retirees better. Our retirees have not received a single pay increase since 2008! And many of the raises given to our active educators have been taken away on the back end by increasing their health insurance costs and reducing their retirement benefits.
Make no mistake – younger teachers are watching how our state treats retired educators. They know that if they stay in Alabama, they eventually will be neglected and forgotten about, that one day they will retire and not be able to afford to make ends meet because the cost of living will keep going up but our lawmakers in Montgomery will never give them a pay raise.
Without a pay increase for retirees, there’s very little motivation for a current teacher to stay here long enough to retire. They’re better off going to another state or getting vested in the retirement system and then leaving to go do something else that pays better.
So, is it any wonder why we have a teacher shortage in this state? We can afford to pay our educators and retirees better. In fact, we can’t afford not to!
It certainly isn’t a question of money. As I said before, this is the largest budget in terms of dollars that we’ve ever had. If we can afford to spend millions of dollars on public universities that also charge their student tuition, and millions more on private school scholarships and charter schools that are run by for-profit companies (which is why corruption has plagued charter schools throughout the nation), why can’t we afford to give our educators and retirees the raise they deserve?
We also keep diverting more and more money out of the education budget to pay for things in the general fund. A few weeks ago, legislators in Montgomery diverted over $31 million dollars from the education trust fund to the General Fund. This is on top of more than $80 million dollars in other taxes legislators diverted a couple years ago.
Alabama cannot afford to keep losing good teachers to other states. And we cannot afford to keep pushing young teachers out of the profession because they can make more money and have less headaches working in a different profession in the private sector.
The bible says we put our money where our heart is. I think it’s time we put our heart where are current and retired educators are.
Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and The Messenger newspaper. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.