This is cross-posted on Rustic Observer
As Virginia is preparing for budget battles at both the state and local levels, one of the big issues that will be discussed is teacher salaries. That’s because for localities like Fairfax County, there have been pay freezes in effect for the last several years (though they did get a one percent cost-of-living increase last year). Most of the teachers I know could definitely use a little more money, but haven’t complained too much about the pay freeze because they’re simply thankful to have a job in this economy. Plus, nobody goes into teaching to get wealthy.
With that being said, Northern Virginia is a very expensive place to live. It therefore shouldn’t be too surprising that a recent survey by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers found that salary impacts job satisfaction for many local teachers.
Seventy-six percent of teachers said they agreed “very much” or “somewhat” that “teacher satisfaction is primarily dependent on salary” in a survey conducted by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, one of two district teachers’ unions.
That was significantly different from teachers’ responses to a similar survey last year, when nearly 70 percent said the relationship between happiness and pay was “weak” despite a two-year freeze on raises and cost-of-living adjustments.
Considering the results of this survey, teachers will probably be pleased to hear that a lot of school board members have made teacher pay a big issue and Superintendent Jack Dale is expected to request a pay increase in his 2013 budget proposal. They shouldn’t get too excited, however, because I still expect a pay increase could face a lot of opposition.
In Fairfax County, simply giving school employees a one percent cost of living increase would cost about $16 million. If you allow teachers to also get their traditional pay increase (which is usually associated with how long they’ve been teaching and what type of degree they have), it would likely cost another $40 million. While these numbers are big, I personally think it’s an investment that must be made in order to make sure we keep high quality teachers in the schools. They are, after all, one of the primary reasons that Fairfax has one of the top school systems in the country.
Unfortunately, a lot of leaders in the Republican Party have made it clear they think we shouldn’t pay teachers a decent wage. In places like Wisconsin and Ohio we’ve even seen the GOP trying to cast teachers as the evil opponents of sound fiscal policy — even after they made plenty of sacrifices in the way of salary. And right here in Virginia, we’ve already seen Gov. Bob McDonnell propose significant cuts to a program that help school districts in Northern Virginia offer public school employees a competitive salary — a move that could greatly hinder efforts to remove the pay freeze in Fairfax. At the same time, he wants to increase the state’s investment in charter schools (which ultimately means less funding for public schools).
As a proud alumna of Fairfax County Public Schools, I certainly hope Jack Dale is successful in securing more funding for teacher pay. Despite the difficult economic times we’re facing, teacher pay is an investment the public could get behind because it’s one that sees both fiscal and moral rewards for the community. When you look at the national movement against paying school employees what they deserve (a movement Gov. McDonnell and his allies appear to have joined in), however, I don’t see any sort of pay increase happening without a fight.