David DR

David Dunn-Rankin

David Dunn-Rankin’s column from the Sept. 15 edition of the Times was not published in its entirety. Below is the complete version.

From reader T:

“I read, with interest, the responses about comparing living conditions past and present this past Sunday. I would submit some indeed have improved, but many others are the same or far worse.

I am a retired/disabled teacher and the facts of my situation are far from typical. I was a school band director and my disability was total hearing loss. I was able to retire after 39 years in the classroom, at age 59, due to being granted social security disability and Florida Teacher retirement disability. Both paid just like I’d retired at age 66.

Getting to my point, however, I used to tell new teachers how lucky they were salary-wise. In my first year teaching in 1975, I earned a whopping $10,000 salary and had to run an extra 30-day summer program to earn it. (230-day contract). Older faculty resented me because I was paid more than they were. Funny thing, $10,000 in 1975 dollars is worth over $50,000 today, more than the recently increased beginning teacher salary that is being promoted as generous.

Certainly, a college degree at today’s rate is more costly than my $143 tuition starting in 1971 ($1,046.11 in 2022 money). Costs have gone up exponentially but salary certainly hasn’t. When I left teaching in 2013, I was earning around $62,000 which would be a $12,000 raise for 39 years on the job, multiple degrees, certifications, and only God knows how many hours spent in useless teacher in-service meetings. The joy I received from working with young people was a priceless compensation, but that doesn’t pay any bills.”

Thanks, T. I admit I was shocked, so I fact-checked you. Your data is spot on. In 1975, when a starting teacher made $10,000, the median job in the U.S. paid just $6,000. Teachers were well-paid, respected professionals.

Until recently, the starting teacher pay in Florida was $37,000 compared to the median wage in America of $44,000 in 2021. Teachers went from being paid 67% more than the average person in 1975 to being paid 16% less than the average person in 2020.

The state legislature tried to remedy the problem by raising the starting salary for teachers in Florida to $47,000. That still leaves teachers dramatically behind where they were in 1975.

How is the huge drop in teacher pay possible? Haven’t we invested a lot more in education since 1975? In 1975, adjusted for inflation, we spent about $5,000 per student. We spend $10,000 today, adjusted for inflation. We doubled our spending after inflation on education, but none of that money went to the people who teach our children.

Student population in America from 1950 to 2009 went up 96%, but non-instructional staff went up 702%. That’s where a large part of the money went. These staff are there because we have asked our schools to take on the jobs of health-care, more meals, psychological guidance, speech pathology, nicer facilities today than 1950 and much more administrative jobs to handle all the rules created by Washington, D.C. and Tallahassee.

As T points out, the cost of getting an education for a teaching job has dramatically increased.

Taking a teaching job now means earning less, relative to your peers, than a teacher did in 1975 while paying a lot more money for the privilege. To be paid relatively the same as in 1975, compared to their non-teaching peers, starting teachers in Florida would be making closer to $70,000 rather than $47,000.

There are many jobs for smart college graduates that now pay better than teaching with less hassle compared to 1975. We doubled our education spending in real dollar terms but put none of it into the people most responsible for our children’s education — teachers. Less money for a harder job. Should anyone be surprised we have a large teacher shortage in Florida and around the country?

What do you think? Share your thoughts.

David Dunn-Rankin may be reached at: David@d-r.media

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