Should We Pay Teachers the Same as Legislators?

California’s initiative process is imperfect.  We cherish the right to circulate citizen’s petitions when the Legislature refuses to act on matters of critical importance.

But give any Californian the right to submit a ballot measure, and you’re sure to have some wild ideas in the bunch.

The latest is a measure to raise teacher pay to the salary levels earned by state legislators, roughly $105,000 a year.  Its chief proponent, Marc Litchman, is the head of an education non-profit called California Trust for Public Schools, a former Congressional candidate and longtime Democrat staffer.

He told the Los Angeles Times that, “what we’re asking teachers to do is every bit as critical as what we’re asking legislators to do.”

Teacher salaries in California vary by community.  According to the California Department of Education, state teacher salaries range from about $41,000 in small districts with fewer than 1,000 students to about $96,000 at the highest levels for high school teachers in districts with more than 4,000 students.

The devil, of course is in the details.  In this case, it’s the funding mechanism – a 2-cent increase in the state sales tax.

That’s likely a non-starter in over-taxed California.  The statewide sales tax is 7.25 percent, and many localities have enacted local increases on top of that, running as high as 10.25 percent in some cities in Los Angeles County.

Most people would favor knocking Sacramento politicians down a peg or two, but not if it would raise their out-of-pocket costs every time they buy something.

Litchman’s proposal is also missing a key component – any consideration of teacher effectiveness.  Under a blanket salary increase, there would be no consideration whether those teachers are effective and deserving of a raise.

The landmark Vergara case, while unsuccessful, brought to light how lack of teacher accountability and poor teacher performance – especially in inner-city schools where good teachers are needed the most – are hurting students.

As my colleague Lance Izumi wrote last year in Fox and Hounds:

Beatriz Vergara, the high school student from Pacoima who was the named plaintiff in the case, testified that her seventh-grade history teacher made “rude comments.” How rude? According to Beatriz, her teacher “would call us stupid and tell us that we’re going [to] clean houses for a living, and that Latinos are going to end up being ‘cholos.’”

Elizabeth Vergara, sister of Beatriz, testified that her eighth-grade English class covered one chapter of an assigned book over the course of an entire year.

Are these ineffective, and in some cases offensive, teachers deserving of a raise?  They probably would get one if Litchman’s measure becomes law.

Many individuals submit ballot proposals and come nowhere near collecting the required number of signatures to make the ballot.  With so many electoral fights looming in 2018, most potential supporters will probably pick their battles elsewhere.

Litchman’s proposal is destined to join the list of many well-meaning ballot proposals that are simply unworkable and unrealistic and will never become reality.

Tim Anaya is communications director for Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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