Education, Featured, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Uncategorized

Caldara: Are teachers really underpaid?

The teacher’s union took away a day of valuable education from my kids. The coronavirus forced them to give it back.

The Colorado Education Association set Thursday, March 19, as the day for its members to march en masse to the State Capitol in Denver in a show of worker power. A strike day.

To prove how much they care about our kids’ education, they planned to abandon them and rob them of a day’s worth of learning.

Like many school districts around the metro area, and to the thrill of my teenager, my district in Boulder announced all schools would be closed that day due to a shortage of teachers.

My kids never seem to go to school anyway, so what’s one more day off? There are the “teacher professional development” days, the “conference/exchange” days, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Thanksgiving break, winter break (formerly Christmas break), and spring break.

I count 30 days, six workweeks, during the school year teachers aren’t practicing their art of educating children.

It’s worth noting that many of these days conveniently fall during the Colorado legislative session. If teachers felt it necessary to trudge on the State Capitol to impress legislators, they could do it during any of these times. Doing so would make it a bit more believable that their priority, as so many of their protest signs claim, is our children’s education.

It is a firmly held, culturally shared belief that teachers are underpaid. It’s been the chanted mantra in previous generations and will be in future ones. The sun rises in the east, George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, and teachers are underpaid.

But are they? From a market point of view, not really. That is, overall there are enough teachers to fill the classrooms. If there is a teacher teaching your kid, there must be enough pay to attract him.

When we reflexively say, “teachers are underpaid,” what we mean to say is that given the importance of their job to care for and educate our most valuable resource, our children, we value what they do much more than their market pay. And we do!

We value that so many talented, impassioned people are drawn to this calling. If fewer people were drawn to teaching, they would get paid more. Supply and demand in employment has that effect.

We also value cops, firemen, nurses, restaurant and retail workers more than they get paid. In fact, don’t we wish most everyone got paid more?

And in contrast to teachers all those other jobs are year-round. Beyond the six weeks during the school year that teachers aren’t teaching, they aren’t teaching for about 11 weeks during the summer. Looking at my district’s calendar, for 17 work weeks, a third of the year, teachers are not instructing our kids.

So, when we hear what a teacher is getting paid, shouldn’t we calculate about a third more to compare it to a year-round job? If so, a $60,000-a-year teaching job looks more like an $80,000-a-year job.

But the hidden and real compensation for teachers, and most government employees, is their lavish retirement benefits. Most teachers in Colorado don’t pay Social Security taxes. Instead, they are enrolled in the Public Employee Retirement Association, PERA.

To give you an idea how extravagant government pension retirement benefits are, consider this. Several years back the Independence Institute, the think tank I run, commissioned a study asking a simple question: How much more would a public employee have to be paid in order to buy a private retirement plan that would guarantee the same payout as his public pension? The short answer, about 25% to 27% more.

Put differently, if you added the retirement benefit most teachers in Colorado are guaranteed into their paycheck, their paycheck would be 25% higher, for a job with a third of the year not teaching. The greatest thing we could do for teachers, and transparency for taxpayers, is to switch teacher to a 401k retirement plan.

And finally, what does it say that most teachers in private schools in Colorado get paid less than government schoolteachers, and have no public pension?

The Colorado Education Association, citing concerns over the coronavirus, has canceled their workers’ march on the State Capitol, meaning teachers should be in my kid’s classroom, teaching. Coronavirus willing.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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