New Ways to Increase Teachers’ Buying Power

Getting politicians to pay teachers what we are worth can take forever, but here are two possible ways to increase our buying power.

On Friday I posted Does Moving Money from Prisons to Schools Really Make Sense? The main point of the piece is that I think an improved criminal justice system would help schools more than better schools would help reduce crime. I end by emphasizing that nothing in my analysis suggests that school budgets, particularly in Arizona, are anywhere near sufficient, but that we need to look for solutions to funding education elsewhere.

And funding education is a hot topic in Arizona. Voters rank it as the number one issue in the state. Central to all the discussion is the poor pay that Arizona public school teachers receive.  In fact, teacher pay was the topic of a recent Let’s Talk Ed conference  in Tucson that was attended by teachers, business leaders, and legislators.

It does seem that, as one speaker said, that there is real, incremental movement toward improving our pay. But beyond pay, I’ve been imagining two ideas that I could get behind immediately that wouldn’t increase my pay checks but would certainly increase my spending power for years to come.  One is political and the other would involve the private sector.

Politically, I would love to see legislation or, more likely, a referendum that gave teachers a significant, say $1000, tax credit. That would cover a monthly home payment for many teachers, or several car payments, or medical copayments and deductibles. I bet as a referendum it would receive lots of popular support because while much of the public is fed up with politicians, they generally like teachers and think we’re getting a raw deal salary-wise. The public could see a tax credit as helping teachers directly without the usual political baggage.

Because this would amount to an indirect $60,000,000 increase in education funding (60000 teachers x $1000) some might say we should cut education to make up the difference. So any legislation or referendum would have to include a requirement that the state not only not cut education funding but also continue to increase it an amount that at least matches inflation.

From the private sector, I’d like to see businesses offer reduced interest rates for big-ticket items like houses, major home improvements, and cars. At current interest rates of around 4.5% buying a $150,000 house over a 30 years results in a monthly payment of $760. If a bank offered teachers loans at half that rate, the payment would drop by $200 a month to $560. Teachers could do a lot with an extra $200 a month, including applying it to the principle on the loan and paying it off early.

One thing I particularly like about preferential interest rates for teachers is that the “raise” would be safe for the life of the loan. One objection I anticipate is that some might find it somehow seemly. But bookstores and other businesses often offer discount cards to teachers, so why shouldn’t banks apply the same principles to loans?

An objection to both these ideas might be that states and districts should fund education sufficiently, and “gimmicks” like these enable politicians to neglect their responsibilities. That may be so, but I, for one, have more faith that the public would pass a referendum or that banks would offer preferential interest rates to increase our buying power long before our legislatures or districts would increase our paychecks.

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