Some good friends of mine stopped by for a visit earlier today. They’re a young couple I had the pleasure of marrying a few years back. She’s a nurse working at Harborview, and he’s in the process of finishing up his Master’s studies and is currently fulfilling his requirements for student teaching (he wants to teach middle or high school).
As a young married couple struggling to make ends meet, our conversation eventually turned towards recent decisions made the the WA State Legislator to reduce Teacher pay, bonuses, and incentives.
Though Washington Constitution makes education the State’s top priority, you wouldn’t know it by the way our elected officials are cutting money that is spent on schools. In fact, the percentage of budget dollars paid out towards education has been rapidly declining for a number of years.
But let’s face it, these are tough times. And as they say, tough times require tough measures. Cuts desperately need to be made, and everyone is going to be affected by it – the administrators, the teachers, and ultimately, the students.
So let’s take a look at the education cuts already on the discussion table for the next biennium, most of which are part of the governor’s budget proposal:
— A total of $1 billion from two different class-size reduction programs (one of which was authorized by voters in 2000).
— A 6.3 percent cut in levy equalization — money that goes to “property poor” districts that have trouble raising local tax dollars. Many lawmakers oppose this idea, but it would save $39.5 million.
— About $99.5 million in teacher bonuses for earning national board certification (another initiative that was approved by voters)
— A suspension of salary-step increases would cut another $56.3 million from teacher pay.
— Voter-approved teacher cost-of-living raises amounting to $253.3 million.
— About $18.6 million for gifted or “highly capable” education.
— More than $37 million for a variety of teacher training, mentoring and continuing education programs.
— About $57 million would be saved by not expanding all-day kindergarten to more school districts.
— Another $95.6 million would be saved if the state changes the way it supports the replacement of old school buses.
— About $40 million could be saved in the next biennium by putting off the state’s science and math graduation requirements. Eliminating all the graduation requirements related to the High School Proficiency Exam could save more than $84 million.
Notice how many of the cuts relate to teachers – cuts in pay, raises, bonuses, incentives, and training.
Then add to that the cuts that will result in an increase in classroom sizes, and our valued educators are left with the unappreciative edict, ‘Do More for Less!’
Some of these proposed cuts beg the question, “Why should WA voters bother to vote on initiatives if Olympia is going to turn a deaf ear and do as they please?
To our elected Representatives:
What incentives are there for professional educators to improve their skills? What encourages our teachers to rise above the status-quo and strive for educational excellence? How can a teaching professional work towards improving their earning potential?
Unfortunately, the decision-makers in Olympia are sending a very strong and negative message to our educators: “Don’t excel. Stay complacent. Punch the clock.”
My friend then shared a fitting illustration he had recently heard on NPR.
Evidently, back in the 1700’s when the British were transporting prisoners off to Australia, there were a significant number of prisoners who were dying en-route due to maltreatment. The British tried all kinds of remedies – from imposing more rules, forcing Captains to hire doctors, more citrus to fight off scurvy, and increasing Captain’s salaries. But nothing worked.
Finally, an economist had an idea: instead of paying the Captains for the number of prisoners that embarked on the voyage, the government should only pay for the prisoners who walked off the ship in Australia.
They implemented this strategy, and suddenly, the survivability rate rapidly improved to 99%.
Thus, the first fundamental lesson of economics was born: Incentives matter!
(you can listen to the broadcast in its entirety by clicking on the following link)