Today the Tennessee State Board of Education will vote on a change to the State Minimum Salary Structure, which would result in lowering the minimum amount that public schools are required to pay their teachers. Predictably, many Tennessee teachers aren’t too happy about this. They claim that this will result in “decreased lifetime earnings” for all teachers, which has led to nearly 6,000 signatures on a petition to “protect fair and equitable pay” for teachers.
At the risk of making this my least popular blog post ever, I have a confession to make: I don’t get the outrage.
Don’t get me wrong. I love school teachers. My dad is a public school teacher, as are a great many of my friends, colleagues, and church family members. I have no desire to see any of them make a lower income. I just don’t see how the proposed changes would hurt any of them. In fact, this ought to be seen as a positive step toward improving Tennessee schools.
The purpose of the proposal is to give schools greater flexibility in their hiring. The changes are only to the minimum salary that a teacher can be offered; most school systems already pay more than the minimum, which will undoubtedly remain the case. Schools that are willing to pay higher salaries will still attract better teachers, which is why the Tennessee Education Association’s claim that teachers will have “no incentive” to seek advanced degrees is baloney.
Of course, one reality that many teachers do not want to have to face is that the laws of supply and demand are working against them. There are simply more people with education degrees than there are jobs for teachers. Ask an economics teacher what that would mean for salaries in any profession that wasn’t funded by tax dollars.
Here’s what a lower minimum salary will do for Tennessee schools and teachers:
- Schools willing to pay competitive salaries will be more attractive to better teachers, which should in turn provide incentive for other school systems to pay more than the minimum.
- Schools that cannot afford to pay above the minimum will be able to hire more teachers, resulting in fewer unemployed teachers.
- Prospective college students concerned about the possibility of earning a lower salary will be less likely to major in education, reducing the surplus of qualified teachers, and increasing the relative value of those who are great teachers.
- Under-performing* teachers will not receive automatic raises, becoming less of a burden on Tennessee tax payers.
The bottom line is this: These changes will make the market for good teachers more competitive, and competition is a good thing. The cream will still rise to the top, and the pressure on smaller, less-funded school districts will be eased. If you’re a great teacher, there will be schools willing to pay you for your talents. If you’re a newly certified teacher struggling to find a job, this will make you more employable. If you’re not a good teacher, it’s time to be willing to bring home a lower paycheck or consider another line of work. There are plenty of teachers willing to take your place.
I, for one, hope this proposal passes. Not because I don’t value teachers, but because I do.