USA Today Op-Ed: Democrats have a better deal for teachers and our kids, too: Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi
May 22, 2018
By: Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi
Democrats would invest in teacher pay, modern classrooms, special ed and low-income schools, and pay for it all. We’d also protect collective bargaining.
For the better part of the 20th century, being a teacher in America meant being a part of the middle class. You worked hard and you received decent pay and benefits, enough to afford a home, a car, a vacation and raise a family. But for the past 20 years, public sector employee pay, especially for teachers, has been falling behind.
A 2016 report from the Economic Policy Institute found that teachers take home weekly wages that are 17% lower than comparable workers. Nationwide, 18% of teachers reported working jobs outside of school to supplement their full-time teacher salary. That’s why thousands of teachers across the country have organized and staged walkouts to demand fair pay, adequate resources and better working conditions.
That teacher pay has fallen so far behind matters a great deal, and not just to teachers themselves, but to all of us.
Education is the catalyst for economic mobility; it puts the rungs on the ladders of opportunity. We need great teachers in every classroom so that our children have every opportunity to succeed. And we must respect the voices of these professionals when making decisions about what’s best for their students. In our view, teachers’ pay should much more closely reflect their value to our society. After all, teachers are preparing our next generation. Investing in our future is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
Unfortunately, Republicans have been pushing federal and state education cuts to fund tax giveaways for the rich, resulting in fewer resources for schools and low teacher pay. That must end. How can we as a country better support teachers and school staff to match the critical work they are doing for our children? Democrats have put together a plan, with five main components to offer our nation’s teachers A Better Deal:
- First, we will dedicate $50 billion for states and school districts to increase teacher compensation and recruit and retain a strong, diverse workforce over the next 10 years. During the recession, public investment in K-12 schools declined dramatically. We should support states and school districts who want to reverse the trend and bolster teacher and school staff salaries.
- Second, we will establish a new $50 billion fund for school infrastructure and resources. Students and educators deserve 21st century classrooms and up-to-date educational technology and materials. We tell children that education is important and send them a different message by putting them in substandard schools. Improving our nation’s school infrastructure will help retain our best educators.
- Third, we will give additional support to initiatives that improve Title I schools serving low-income children, and ensure that all students have access to academic opportunities like computer science, music and civics. We need to provide all students with a well-rounded education to get them ready for today’s changing economy.
- Fourth, we will protect teachers’ freedom to negotiate for better pay and conditions by safeguarding the right of public employees to join unions, collectively bargain, and engage in collective action to support each other. Currently, no federal law provides teachers and other public servants with collective bargaining rights. Democrats want to guarantee teachers the same freedoms that private sector workers have to negotiate collectively for a better deal.
- Fifth, we will work to meet our federal commitment to fund special education. When Congress first passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, the federal government promised to provide 40% of the excess costs of educating children with disabilities. We are not even close to that. Fulfilling our federal promise will not only help provide resources to students with disabilities, it will improve the quality of education for all students.
How do we propose to pay for all this? Simple. We’d revisit the Trump tax cuts for the top 1%. Instead of allowing millionaires, billionaires and massive corporations to keep their tax breaks and special-interest loopholes, Democrats would invest in teachers and students.
The famous education reformer Horace Mann said that “education, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of (the human condition) — the balance wheel of the social machinery.” Public education allows every American, no matter their means, to secure a decent living for themselves and their family. That’s what Horace Mann was talking about — the American Dream. And education is the cornerstone.
If we want the American Dream to live on, as brightly and as widely accessible in our time as it was in the past, we need to start seriously investing in education. Democrats have a plan to do it by offering A Better Deal for teachers. And we’re going to fight for it.