21
February
2011

This is not the end of the cuts to worker pay and benefits

There’s lots of controversy right now as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is bullying through a bill to strip workers of their rights to bargain collectively. Once that happens, the best workers will leave and Wisconsin could see a generation of declining education.

Anti-teacher bills like this do not have a temporary impact. The impact is long lasting. If you cut a teachers pay, then you increase the cost of their benefits and reduce their pensions the profession of teaching sounds much less appealing. Yes, people get into teaching because of their love of children and because they want to make a positive impact on the world. But they do so at a cost. Public workers do not make the same as private sector workers do. This is not conjecture, it is fact. The Wisconsin Policy Institute did a study of Wisconsin public workers versus private sector workers in the same type of field and they found that public workers make less.

But how will this have a long term effect? As we watch the Walker fiasco unwind in Madison, young people in college are studying to go into their preferred fields. To be a teacher requires specialized training including in-classroom experience. These teachers in training have hands on requirements which are unpaid but contribute to well run classrooms. Think about what these young people are grappling with as they hear that todays teachers are finding their pay and benefits slashed because some politician gave away a massive tax break to his buddies who supported him in the last election, is paying or that tax break by cutting teacher compensation.

Why would anyone go into teacher knowing that they will be treated like that?

You’re made the punching bag of many dirty politicians. Rather than being seen as someone who has dedicated your life to children, you’ll be seen as the enemy.

Now let’s say that you get your masters degree. If you’re in the private sector and you have your specialized degree for your field you can expect to make a sweet $100,000 per year if you include your pay and benefits. As a teacher, you can make up to about $70,000 after many years on the job.

That’s a 30% discrepancy.

First, yes that is a lot of money. I will not dispute that either of those salaries are very good salaries. The difference is that the public employee, who has spent the same amount of time getting their career specific degree, is compensated at a lower rate because they are a public employee.

Starting salaries for teachers tend to be in the mid to high $20,000 range. As you hone your skills and earn your raises those amounts can go up but are limited by how far you went with your degree. Teachers with bachelors degrees obviously earn less since they have less college training — the same way the private sector works.

The problem right now is that states are having problems balancing their budgets as healthcare costs continue to explode. This problem is not going away. Healthcare costs are expected to continue to rise as Congress failed to enact sufficient healthcare reform in the last session and in this session there are tea party activists who have been elected who have vowed to try to reverse what was passed. Rather than see healthcare for the comprehensive issue that it is, they choose to stick to the simplistic idea that the private sector does everything better and that insurance is the way to go. Now that insurance costs have exploded and deductibles soared, the public is experiencing record high costs.

Healthcare costs will continue to rise whether you strip teachers of their benefits or not.

But if you strip teachers of their benefits, you will have fewer young people who take classes in teaching. They will simply switch their majors to pursue careers in the private sector where they will not be vilified and their salaries and benefits will not be scrutinized by uneducated, ill informed, low paid private sector workers who see only the dollar signs and discount all of the work, commitment and years of study that teachers have put in all for the right to teach their children.

I have no horse in this race. As a business owner I have to deal with high costs too but I understand the benefits of a highly educated workforce. My wife is a former teacher who left the profession because of the long hours coupled with low pay. As a family we made a decision that it made little sense for her to continue to dedicate up to 18 hours per day plus many Saturdays working to educate the children of other people while being compensated the same as an administrative assistant with no college what so ever. Having the summers off is little compensation for the amount of time that we lost her during the school year.

But to those who do have that commitment and have chosen to stick with it, hat off to them. Most work long hours. Some work in hostile school environments. It is easy to get jaded. And when those same teachers are told that they are the problem and the way to fix it is to take away that which they went to college to earn, the best will leave the profession and the education of our children, who are our future workforce, will suffer.

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