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Before Changing Teacher Pay, Examine Current Ed. Spending


Matthew Holland

I'm a teacher. Due to tax increases and increases in health care and retirement costs, I took home less pay this year than I did last year. That is with a step increase in pay. The cost of living, from gas to groceries, has continued its upward climb. Nothing is getting cheaper so this should be a no-brainer, right? Pay me more. Well, not exactly.

Before demanding more money for my services, I want to know, and other teachers should ask, "Where is our money already going?" As a nation we spend roughly 7.3 percent of our GDP on education. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that the United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When higher education programs were factored in, the United States spent $15,171 on each person in our education system. Our spending topped all other OECD nations covered in the report. Surely a large percentage of that $15,000 is not being directed towards teacher salaries and benefits? Or is it?

Examine just one school system spending over $18,000 per pupil. A review of the proposed FY2014 budget for the school district in which I am a taxpayer shows that out of the $520.4 million budgeted for education, 77.3 percent of that funding is slated for salaries and benefits. At first glance that figure is astounding. "Almost 80 percent of the total budget is going towards paying for teacher salaries and benefits?" That is what the average reader of the budget or the everyday reader of a local news article would most likely say upon seeing that figure. However, a closer review of the district's organizational chart reveals that many positions which employ people who never directly interact with children are drawing from these salary and benefit funds. Assistant superintendents, supervisors, directors, coordinators, and some employees titled simply as "administrators" are pulling in six-figure salaries.

Now don't get me wrong—just because employees are not working directly with students does not mean their job is not important. The issue here is that there is a limited amount of funds available and tough decisions must be made when budgeting for our schools. Before we can examine any innovative approaches to compensation, we must first examine how we are spending the money we currently have at our disposal. Teachers may be able to take home more at the end of the day, but that pay will have to come from other positions currently receiving those funds.

Matthew Holland is a public school elementary school teacher in Alexandria, Va.

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