Teachers’ salaries are not the problem

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday that public employees, specifically teachers, are “over-benefited and overpaid” and need to have their incomes cut.


Pawlenty answered a question from Plainview-Elgin-Millville Superintendent Gary Kuphal while speaking to the Plainview Chamber of Commerce. Kuphal asked him about his long-term solution for education funding.


As reported in the Post-Bulletin, the governor said public employee benefits, salaries and entitlements need to be brought under control. “It used to be that public employees were underpaid and over-benefited. Now they are over-benefited and overpaid compared to their private-sector counterparts,” he said.


So Pawlenty is saying teachers are overpaid and need to make less money. According to the National Education Association, Minnesota ranks 24th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in average teacher salary in 2008-09 with a salary of $51,938. When asked why nearly half of all teachers leave their first hiring posts within five years, most say it’s due to Minnesota’s average $33,018 salary for starting teachers, 25th in the nation in 2007-08.


Pawlenty is wrong, of course, but that hardly matters. What matters is that people hear the governor say things like this and then start to believe he might be right. A conversation about facts isn’t Pawlenty’s goal. He simply wants to dictate what we talk about and how we talk about it.


Let’s start the discussion like this: Teachers are professionals who have a very difficult job – a job that will inevitably determine the economic success and social stability of Minnesota. One dollar spent in 2010 is worth much more after high school graduation and through college.


Minnesota’s historically strong K-12 education system has been cut by 14 percent since Pawlenty took office in 2003. For a host of reasons, including the fact that teachers deserve to be paid like the professionals they are, this cannot be allowed to continue.


Not everyone bought into Pawlenty’s answer. The Post-Bulletin reporter Heather Carlson asked Kuphal what he thought of Pawlenty’s answer. “It was a non-answer. I really didn’t hear anything that I hadn’t heard before. He was kind of stating a position without offering a solution,” he said. “I had hoped for more.”