Kamala Harris Suggests Paying Teachers Like They're Important
Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has a radical idea: We should pay schoolteachers as if they'd actually attended school themselves. The California senator today announced details of her proposal to increase teacher salaries across the country. She'd first discussed the plan at a campaign event this weekend at Texas Southern University.
HARRIS: I am declaring to you that by the end of my first term, we will have improved teacher salaries so that we close the pay gap, because right now teachers are making over 10 percent less than other college-educated graduates.
The plan would raise average teacher pay by $13,500. That should permit them to quit at least one of their other part-time jobs. The federal government would pitch in the first 10 percent of required funding. States would have access to $3 in matching federal support for every dollar of additional state money until the pay gap is closed with other college-educated workers. In our home state of South Carolina, the average teacher would get a $9,300 raise, which is a 19 percent pay increase.
Harris elaborated further in an op-ed published in today's Washington Post.
HARRIS: The United States is facing a teacher pay crisis. Public school teachers earn 11 percent less than professionals with similar educations. Teachers are more likely than non-teachers to work a second job. In 30 states, average teacher pay is less than the living wage for a family of four.
The Democratic women running for president have bold ideas beyond giving reach-arounds to Trump voters so they'll like us. Elizabeth Warren came out with an affordable housing proposal last week. Now Harris is tackling teacher pay -- a pressing issue considering there have been teacher strikes even in such "red" states as West Virginia and Oklahoma. When asked why she chose this as her first policy rollout, Harris said that the "most direct path for any person to be able to achieve success is to have a meaningful education." (Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin might argue the more direct path is having wealthy parents who just buy you a meaningful education at least on paper.)
Harris will address "decades of systemic educational inequality" with additional investments in the country's neediest schools, which -- not-coincidentally -- students of color disproportionately attend. Teachers there will earn more than other "comparable professionals" in the state. Harris believes this will help those schools reduce high turnover rates and attract top talent.
Our girl also plans to dedicate funding to historically black colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions. The Howard graduate is smart enough to know her plan is going to piss off Republicans anyway, so there's no sense in holding back in hopes that Susan Collins or even Joe Manchin is going to do right by her. Go all in, sister.
Teachers prepare the next generation for the task of cleaning up the mess the previous one made of everything. Yet they are historically underpaid in part because of sexist BS that is no longer excusable. Teacher pay has stagnated for years now. They earn 18.7 percent less than comparable workers. (If you say something about having summers off, we'll slap you silly.) How could anyone oppose paying them more, especially when it still doesn't come close to their actual worth?
Politico points out that Harris's plan will cost a "staggering" $315 billion over 10 years. Hey, no one wants little Susie's math teacher to continue secretly eating cat food for lunch, but how does Harris propose paying for all this?
HARRIS: We will pay for this plan by increasing the estate tax for the top 1 percent of taxpayers and cracking down on loopholes that let the very wealthiest, with estates worth multiple millions or billions of dollars, avoid paying their fair share.
That's right. Rich people might have to pay more taxes. Their kids don't even go to public schools! This is robbery. Republican frequently argue that Democrats try to "bribe" voters with free stuff. That's far less honorable apparently than the fossil fuel industry and the gun lobby bribing Republicans with sizable donations.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement gushing over Harris's proposals.
WEINGARTEN: For every teacher in America and for the 91 percent of kids who attend our public schools, this is one of the most thoughtful initiatives we've seen in years. Sen. Harris is making sure that if we say teachers and education are important, we actually treat them that way. While Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have slashed programs and pushed a federal budget that makes the situation worse, Sen. Harris has crafted a concrete commitment to make things better.
Meanwhile, in the land of evil, supposed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans to go before the House today and claim her department needs less money. Who does that? The Department of Defense isn't about to argue for fewer tanks. "Yeah, yeah, spread the trillions around. The military-industrial complex is under budget this year." DeVos is expected to say something dumb like "this administration dispenses with the tired notion that more spending equals better results." We'll respond to all her stupid later once we've had time to process it.
For now, let's imagine a future where we again have a president who gives a damn about education for all students and respects teachers instead of scapegoating them.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.