When teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, and Oklahoma protested for more education dollars, some people wondered if Pennsylvania teachers would add their voices to the movement. But despite the state’s woeful funding of public schools, its teachers have largely remained silent.
Perhaps that’s because Pennsylvania teachers are some of the highest paid in the nation. The state average of $62,000 a year puts Pennsylvania teachers in the No. 11 slot. New York and Alaska are first and second, with both states’ teachers averaging more than $76,000 a year. New Jersey teachers, No. 6, average $68,000 annually.
Some teachers in affluent school districts make a lot more than the average annual salary; Lower Merion teachers average $99,000. Even teachers in some seemingly less affluent areas of Pennsylvania are paid quite well. Teachers in the Dallastown School District in York County average $84,000 annually.
But the teacher protests in other states aren’t just about their pay. Those teachers have also been earnest about the need for larger investments in classroom instruction to recover from the big hits taken during the recession. Recent funding per student was 11 percent below 2008 levels in West Virginia, 15 percent lower in Kentucky, and 28 percent in Oklahoma.
Pennsylvania schools aren’t doing great either. Gov. Wolf’s $6.1 billion education budget this year restored K-12 funding to the amount before Gov. Tom Corbett gouged $841 million out of it in 2011. But the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center says if you adjust for inflation, an additional $911 million above Wolf’s budget would be needed to bring funding to its true 2011 level.
Pennsylvania teachers should be demanding better funding, but maybe they expect relief from the courts. A lawsuit filed in 2014 that alleges Pennsylvania is violating its constitution by inadequately funding schools was reinstated by the state Supreme Court last year and sent back to Commonwealth Court, which had dismissed it.
A ruling does not appear imminent, but maybe teachers can give the court some incentive by using tactics employed by teachers in other states. For example, before they began a strike, Arizona teachers held “walk-ins,” rather than “walkouts,” where they would gather outside their schools before classes began and walk inside together as a show of unity.
Pennsylvania ranks a lousy 46th in the nation in the state’s share of education funding, which means schools must depend on local property taxes to make up the difference. That works well in high-income districts, like Council Rock and Centennial in Bucks County, but not in poor ones.
Philadelphia gets most of the attention when it comes to the inadequate state support, but the problem isn’t limited to urban districts; it can be found in low-income communities across the state.
No teacher, not even the better-paid ones, are in the profession solely for the pay. Their motivation is educating children. In doing that they should join the movement to adequately fund America’s public schools and press this state to meet its constitutional obligation to provide for the “thorough” education of Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. It’s time to stop shortchanging classroom instruction.