Teacher salaries don’t make the cut

A strike in Detroit kept almost 130,000 kids out of school for nearly three weeks.

Last Thursday, teachers in Detroit returned to school after a 16-day strike that kept nearly 130,000 kids out of school. The strike came after both sides failed to reach an agreement regarding teachers’ pay, health care and other benefits. The district was asking for $88 million in concessions, among them a 5.5 percent pay cut. Both sides argued that the other wasn’t doing their part in trying to resolve a budget shortfall of $106 million. Beyond all of the mudslinging and rhetoric, one thing is clear – the Detroit school system is broken and ultimately it is the kids who lose.

This is not an isolated incident. Public employees across the country routinely find themselves on picket lines fighting in numbers to stop pay cuts or health care readjustments. In many cases, as with Detroit, these employees are prohibited from striking and ordered by the courts to go back to work. Another recent example is Metropolitan Transit Authority employees in New York City, who voted to strike in order to protect pension benefits. The strike in New York cost the city an estimated $500 million per day, further illustrating the point that everyone loses. In the case of Detroit’s schools, the cost to the students and the system is immeasurable.

Many people predict that the crippled system will only get worse. They speculate that, because of the strike, many students will leave the district for schools in the outer areas of Detroit. This drain of students will presumably lead to less money and more budget shortfalls, creating an even worse situation for students, especially the ones who don’t have the option of leaving.

The immense cost of quality education is an unfortunate reality that many inner-city school districts regularly face, and it’s lamentable that this burden then falls on teachers that already give so generously. Each year, the United States spends upwards of $350 billion on public elementary and secondary education, with the majority of this money raised at the state and local level. While it seems like a sufficient amount, the average teacher salary in the United States is a meager $46,000. Our nation can do more to improve public education. Teachers at all levels play an integral role in the health of our nation, and they deserve the public’s support.