Who will champion for teacher raises?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2000

How much money is an education worth? It’s not a question many people often consider. But, perhaps, it’s a question that our society should answer.

A group of governors meeting in Little Rock, Ark., pondered the question this week when the focus of the Southern Governors Association’s meeting shifted to the topic of teacher pay.

The governors — like many people in society — believe teachers should have higher wages. But some of the governors, including Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, say the problem with low teacher pay, really rests with society in general, not simply with government. Foster explained that the business community in Louisiana has not supported efforts to improve teacher pay. And, Foster said, without the support of business, legislators are unlikely to put much effort into making pay raises become a reality.

Email newsletter signup

Few people can argue the importance of the work teachers perform each day. At its simplest, teachers hold the key to our society’s future in their hands. And, despite some improvements in recent years, Southern teachers are still grossly underpaid.

But why?

Decades ago when teaching was one of the few socially acceptable jobs for women, society made a choice to keep the pay low. At the time, women who wanted or needed to work had few options so they were forced to put up with the low wages.

This is no longer the case.

Now women are CEOs of major corporations. Opportunities — while some would argue are not totally equal — have become much more accessible for women.

So why do we continue to pay teachers so little?

If, as Gov. Foster purports, the blame lies on the part of business leaders who fear increased taxes and lower profitability, when will it end?

Can we continue to starve our educational system by paying teachers less than they are worth?

In business terms, at some point — probably soon — this will begin to affect our bottom line. Our schools will begin to graduate subpar students who do not have the basic skills to move into the workforce.

We hope that it doesn’t come to that.

And the answer to the entire teacher pay debate comes down to a simple question: How much is an education worth to you?

It’s a question each of us needs to answer.