Teachers will receive a minimum wage of $60,000 under the State Grants Bill.

WASHINGTON. A group of politicians and educators, including author Dave Eggers and former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, gathered Wednesday at the US Capitol to push for the American Teachers Act.

The bill, if passed, would authorize the federal government to create four-year grants for states to pass and enforce minimum wage requirements for school teachers of $60,000 or more. The program will begin in fiscal year 2024. It does not require teacher promotion.

“We are here today to protect our teachers, our caregivers, our saving grace that saves families and our children every day,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., the bill’s sponsor and former teacher. “We want our teachers to receive decent wages. Fair wages in line with today’s economy.”

Wilson introduced the American Teachers Act in the House of Representatives on Dec. 14 and is expected to re-introduce it in this Congress, although it is likely to meet resistance from the Republicans who control the House.

The legislation states that 15% of the four-year federal grants can support state-level educational institutions, with the remaining 85% to go directly to the state’s local school districts.

The bill includes a cost-of-living adjustment that links teachers’ salaries to inflation, as well as a clause allowing a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance and work of teachers.

Felton Moss, Wilson’s senior political adviser, said the bill also includes a sustaining effort clause that would require states not to forego their $60,000 minimum wage obligations if they want to keep their funding. Additional language in the bill ensures that states will prioritize Title I schools and districts when allocating funds.

In the 2020-2021 school year, public school teachers earned $61,600 while working an average of 52 hours per week. However, there are significant differences in teacher salaries across states.

Mississippi, the lowest-paid state for teachers in the 2020-2021 school year, paid an average of $46,862, according to the National Education Association. Meanwhile, in New York City, the median salary for teachers was $90,222.

Heroes fight to stay afloat

Wilson praised the dedication of teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic who taught online or went from house to house to teach students who did not have access to technology.

“It was at this time that the world finally saw what we have known for many years, that teachers are heroes,” she said. “They deserve an acceptable, competitive salary that accurately reflects the importance of their role in society.”

Wilson said one in five teachers across the country are currently working a second job to supplement their income, and more than 9,000 counties across the country pay teachers less than $40,000 a year.

She said this lack of adequate pay contributes greatly to some of the reports of teacher shortages in school districts.

“We should be ashamed,” Wilson said. “The shortage of teachers today is one of the most serious threats to access to education. And we must solve this problem. Our classes are at stake, our children are at stake, the future of our country is at stake.”

Ellen Sherrat of the Teacher Pay Project said that in her 20 years as an economist analyzing teacher pay and shortages, the pay gap and teacher morale are the worst ever.

Last fall, the Economic Policy Institute conducted an analysis of teacher pay trends from 1970 to 2021 and found that teachers, on average, earn 23.5% less than their peers with similar levels of education.

Sherratt also said that 62% of parents polled in a PDK public school survey last year said they didn’t want their child to go to teach because of the low pay.

Rodney Robinson, National Teacher of the Year 2019, estimated that approximately 50% of the Ubers and Lyfts he uses during the week are run by teachers. The Richmond, Virginia resident added that one of those Uber drivers was a former teacher in Alabama. The driver was studying to be a principal and had to quit his job as a teacher to pay for the school.

“We really need to rethink what we do as a country,” Robinson said. “If teachers – our most valuable asset, who educate the next generation – are forced to quit or take other jobs to make ends meet.”

Nicholas Ferroni, a history teacher at Union High School in Union, New Jersey, added that teaching is one of the few professions where people can have the most impact on the most people. Ferroni lamented that teachers have to use GoFundMe to “beg for supplies.”

“I’m only here because I don’t want to marry rich or become an administrator or change jobs,” Ferroni said. — I want to stay in class.

Teachers and the future of students

Duncan, a former education secretary, said that a good teacher not only affects test scores and graduation rates, but also financial security. He said Raj Chetty’s economic analysis showed that one good high school teacher increased a given class’s lifetime earnings by $250,000.

“So you’re thinking about putting two good teachers back to back, or three good teachers back to back,” Duncan said. “What does it give young people forever?”

Duncan also spoke about the institutional barriers to social and economic equity that high quality education can overcome.

“No child wants to be poor,” Duncan said. “The only way I know how to break the cycle of poverty and create upward mobility is to create opportunities. It is critical to find good teachers where they are needed most.”

Robinson said the bill could reduce barriers for people of color to enter the profession and close the gap in national achievement.

“People don’t understand the added burden for people of color who take on additional student loan debt,” Robinson said. “We know that having educators of color, teachers who are like their students, is the most important factor in closing this achievement gap and increasing graduation rates.”

“By raising teacher salaries, we can dedicate ourselves to increasing diversity among teachers.”

Predicted pullback

Moss said the teachers’ pay bill still had to work out the details, including a specific definition of “teacher” and provisions for veteran educators.

Robinson added that he sees the bill will inevitably face resistance, but said the backlash should not deter his supporters.

“Godly DC, you know,” Robinson said. “How are we going to pay for this? How will we do it?

“How can we afford not to pay for this? It’s a matter of national security.”

Duncan disputed claims by some teachers that the American Teachers Act represented an abuse of federal power. “Education is a major bipartisan issue,” Duncan said. “This is nation building. Our teaching workforce in our country is the best insult to our nation.”

Eggers praises his teachers

After the roundtable, Eggers talked about the “continuous lineup of outstanding teachers” in his education during an interview with Newsroom. The author said that he still sends his books in handwritten form to former school English teacher Peter Ferry, who is one of his first readers.

“Every study that has ever verified that the most important thing in a student’s education is not the color of the paint on the walls or the equipment,” Eggers said. “The most important thing is the teachers. This is a school. First of all, it should be teachers.

The author stressed that if the pay schedule for teachers goes up, talent will enter and stay in the profession, and the nation will grow to recognize the value of what teachers bring to the table.

“We know there’s a crisis,” Eggers said. “We have hundreds of thousands of empty classrooms. We have schools that only have one or two qualified teachers. Perhaps this is the most urgent moment in the last 150 years. And there is no other option. We have to start somewhere.”

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