January 4, 2022
From the 2018 pension protests to a lack of support for teacher raises in the legislature, and increased work demands during the pandemic, many teachers say they don’t have hope that their profession will ever receive the respect it deserves.
“Although no one goes into education to be a millionaire, that does not mean as elected officials we should exploit their part and their role,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said.
Often, teachers will say that their pay is not what is keeping them in classrooms, but over time, the plea that educators make each legislative session appears to be muted by the bills that are killed on the legislature floor.
According to Kentucky State Senator Reggie Thomas, teacher pay should be a priority in this legislative session.
“It is a constitutional requirement for the legislature–that’s their number one job–to build an adequate, equitable public education system in Kentucky,” he said, “and one the ways we believe that should be done is to attract the best and brightest through increasing [teacher’s] compensation.”
There is a common acceptance that classroom teachers are underpaid. An Ipsos Survey released in 2018 found that nearly 60% of respondents feel this way, and that same year Kentucky teacher Hope Brown was featured in TIME Magazine as an example of teachers who have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
And these are professionals with advanced degrees. When you compare others with similar credentials, the data is clear. The training to become a teacher is not commensurate with their compensation.
Senator Thomas explained that it was a “tax revenue issue.”
When it comes to legislation concerning taxpayer dollars, it is always is a divisive subject, especially when it comes to salaries.
The two-year state budget, made in 2020, originally included a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise to teachers as proposed by Governor Andy Beshear, but that was quickly taken out before the budget passed. Instead, teachers received the typical 1% raise similar to budgets past.
Sen. Thomas said that in the last three years the legislature has postponed teacher raises because of COVID, but that could change this session. Kentucky had a $1.1 billion budget surplus in fiscal year 2021, boosting the state’s budget reserve fund to $1.9 billion heading into the 2022 legislative session.
“In the 22-24 budget we should give teachers a 2% raise the first year,’ he said, “and another 1% raise after that.”
Representative Killian Timoney (R-KY) said that previous bills concerning teacher pay were not passed because there were unanswered questions.
“Would that be a bonus, would that be a permanent thing?” he said. “Because all of those things have to be vetted, obviously, for long-term sustainability. One of the things we need to make sure we’re doing when we do make financial decisions when we do purchase things, or go with programs, that they are sustainable and that we can maintain them moving forward.”
He mentioned an anticipated budget surplus and that, along with federal COVID relief money that the state is still receiving, could create an opportunity to address teacher pay.
“I’m very optimistic that those [bills] will be heard,” he said.
But even if that happens, teachers say that there are other reasons they are leaving, including professional respect.
“The number one thing that we need is time … we need time to grade, we need time to prep, we need time to call home and make parent contacts, we need time to just be able to meet with our students and make relationships with them,” English teacher and AFT representative Trevor Tremaine said.
Educators are paid for the work done between the beginning and end of the school day. They are not paid overtime for the work that they do after hours.
Tremaine said that most teachers are not able to complete grading and lesson planning during the school day, especially when planning time is often taken by meetings and other duties.
As social studies teacher and AFT representative Sharessa Crovo said, “a teacher works to plan to do more work later.”
And students notice.
“Many times I have seen grades updated at 2 or 3 a.m. While I appreciate [my teacher] staying on top of things, it concerns me how late he is staying up to keep up with his work,” senior Allie Barnes said.
In addition to class size and salary, educators would like to see changes around licensure, professional development, and other benefits. What a district has to offer can heavily affect not only recruitment efforts, but also retention if other districts are able to offer more.
FCPS Superintendent Dr. Demetrus Liggins said, “If we can raise teacher’s pay–we’ll never be able to pay teachers nearly enough as they are worth because they are worth their weight in gold–but if we could pay teachers across our entire spectrum of education a wage that shows they are appreciated and the work that they do is valued and is important in our culture and society, that would go a long way.”
He also said that there are things the district can do. For one, help offset the costs of education degrees and licensure.
“Student loan forgiveness is one way that I think we can really attract people into the field,” Dr. Liggins said.
He also said that the district has been investing time and energy into brainstorming benefits for future educators.
“I plan on really providing something where if a student graduates from Fayette County Public Schools and they would like to go into teaching and return to their community to go into teaching giving them a contract that says ‘when you graduate you already have a job to come back to work in Fayette County,” he said.