Minimum wage for teachers?

Published 12:01 pm Thursday, November 20, 2014

With the recent election victories behind them, our Republican friends in the Ohio General Assembly have reintroduced legislation to eliminate the minimum salary schedule for teachers.

Ironically, the first minimum salary schedule was created in the 1960s by a Republican legislature, with an education committee chaired by Republican Sen. Oakley Collins of Ironton. The law was signed by Republican Gov. Jim Rhodes. Democrats also supported the idea that teachers with more education and experience should be paid more and that women should be paid the same as men.

Now, supporters of eliminating this salary floor argue they need “flexibility” to reward better or more valuable teachers. Some administrators would like to pay more for high school math and science teachers, for instance, since salaries now offered in those areas are not usually competitive with those in industry, making such teachers harder to get.

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They’d also like to reward teachers whose students get higher scores on standardized tests. But that would undercut cooperation among staffs, and set up unneeded tensions among teachers — since test scores reflect a lot more than what any one teacher does.

There would be a reasonable fear that salaries might reflect favoritism, based on personal factors, a teacher’s gender, religion, or race. It’s what as happened before the minimum salary schedule was adopted, so it might well happen again. Certainly it would make worse the condition where parents in wealthy communities can pay their teachers a lot more than those in Ohio’s poorer communities.

In reality, the minimum schedule is not a problem, since most school districts are well above the $20,000 starting salary, with a college degree, and $28,360 after eleven years, as required by current law.

They have to be above that, to get teachers. At current minimum salaries, it takes scrimping and sacrifice to be a teacher. Especially when you consider that new teachers may have owe up to $100,000 or more for the required college education.

If teacher salaries drop in relation to the cost of living, what are we doing to the future of our children and grandchildren? Who will want to be a teacher?

This bad idea of eliminating a minimum salary for teachers, parallels the bad idea of opposing the minimum wage for other workers. It’s the same philosophy of, let the “invisible hand of the market” take care of everyone.

It’s not a “conservative” idea to take teachers back to their status during the Great Depression. It’s a radical, reactionary idea.

Democrats, meanwhile, are looking at what went wrong in the recent election that saw the lowest turnout since 1942. The obvious question is why? In spite of all the cajoling by Democratic leaders and all the problems that need addressing, the reality is that most folks don’t care that much about politics to follow the back-and-forth and then vote. Lots of folks work two jobs to make ends meet and don’t have time to watch political haranguing on TV.

They’re turned off by the constant negativity. Democrats need to offer more to voters than at-least-we’re-not-as-bad-as-Republicans. They need to vigorously defend their programs that work — like the minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act — and try to strengthen them. The state income tax needs to be increased at the upper levels, so that millionaires and billionaires contribute a fair share to a society that has given them so much.

Today’s Republicans face the danger of taking too seriously the radical rhetoric of their Tea Party and Libertarian wing who want to scale back government to where it serves no one but the super wealthy.

We’re already seeing the results of tax cuts at the state level, reducing resources once shared with local government, so that all across Ohio voters are being asked to increase their property taxes or their local income taxes to keep their streets paved, their public schools open, and their police forces staffed.

Maybe voters in affluent suburbs can afford that, but in southern Ohio, it’s tough. Low gasoline prices are helping sustain the current economy, but continued downward pressure on wages will make it harder for teachers and other working people to enjoy Thanksgiving or shop for Christmas. That could hurt everybody.


Southern Ohio writer, Jack Burgess, is a retired teacher and former Executive Director of the Columbus Education Association. He can be contacted at