Increasing Teacher Salaries: Isn't That Econ 101 Stuff?

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I admit I'm a layman when it comes to economics. I studied a little Econ in college, though not enough to hurt me. Now and then I read newspaper and magazine columns by economists. So I don't claim any expertise in the field. But isn't the idea of Supply and Demand pretty basic? If the supply of a good or service is low and the demand is high, don't you need to raise the price so supply equals demand? Sure, there are other factors to consider, but that's where the discussion begins, right?

So if the supply of teachers in Arizona is far lower than the demand, if there are more classrooms than there are teachers to fill them, isn't it just economic common sense to admit we have to raise the price—the salaries—of teachers to meet the demand?

I guess we could try other strategies. We could lower the demand for teachers by cramming a few more kids into every classroom. Give six teachers five or six more kids each, and that would empty a classroom and eliminate the need for one teacher. The problem is, Arizona is already near the top in class size nationally—that's what happens when your education spending is at the bottom—so adding more students only bends our numbers further from the national average. Not to mention, it would drive some of our already over-stretched and over-stressed teachers around the bend, driving them out of the profession. That would make the problem worse, not better.

I guess everyone could try Governor Ducey's strategy of saying how much we all respect teachers. To be honest, that would help a little. When teachers work their asses off and are told what a lousy job they're doing, it doesn't make for a happy, healthy work environment. Who needs that kind of abuse to go along with a miserably low salary? The problem is, conservatives have spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars trashing teachers—especially what they like to call "failing teachers" in "failing government schools." It's part of their campaign to lower school spending, demonize teacher unions and push school privatization. And it's worked. I've never seen a time when teachers get less respect from the public. So I doubt they're about to change their ways and mount a massive "love your local teacher" campaign. And even if they did, it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference so long as teachers are having trouble paying for food, housing and other basic living expenses. Giving them a gold star won't stop teachers from leaving or encourage new teachers to join the fold—not even if we include Ducey's other strategy of adding a dollar a day to show teachers how much we value them.

Or you could raise the supply by adding cheap knockoff teachers to the pool, kind of like putting faux-Gucci purses on the shelf alongside the real ones, by opening the classroom to people without teaching credentials. Who knows, maybe you could even save a few bucks by starting them at a lower salary. After all, charter school teachers aren't required to be credentialed. Of course, that helps explain the high teacher turnover rate, the "burn and churn" rate, at charters, which is significantly higher than in school districts. People can use teaching as a stopgap profession while they're deciding what they really want to do if they don't have to expend all that time and effort getting a credential. And even those who plan to stick around awhile are likely to be more shocked by the stresses and strains of the classroom than teachers who have some theoretical and practical training before they try to manage classrooms on their own. You'll probably uncover a few gems if you lower the teaching standards, a few natural born educators, but you're more likely to end up with people without the training or dedication they need to succeed.

I say, let's get back to economic basics and pay teachers enough to increase the supply.

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