A Compromise to Combat the Utah Public School Teacher Shortage

It seems every year Utah has a more acute lack of teachers to teach in the public schools. The way to solve this problem is to compromise--pay the teachers more and reduce the increase in the public school population through the encouragement of education vouchers.


The public school year 2007-08 is upon us, and some children will start their classes with temporary teachers, because some districts don't have enough teachers. Here's what we need to do.

1. Raise Teacher Salaries

The only reason that Washington County has enough teachers is because it hired 80% of all applicants for open teaching positions. This is very likely an indicator that the quality of education in Washington County will suffer. Like I've said before, you get what you pay for so you should pay for what you want. The Deseret News article linked to above includes a graphic indicating that at about $26,500, Utah is 7th of 8 western states in teacher salaries. Only 15% of teachers come from outside Utah, while a clear indicator that a lot of Utah teachers are leaving Utah is that surrounding states have as many as 60% of their teachers coming from out of state.

Interestingly, the article notes that Granite School District, at least partially as a result of the increase in education funding by the legislature last year, will be able to begin their new teachers at about $30,000. I'm not sure if this is the state average, or if some other factor is at work here. One commenter to the Deseret News article posits an opinion why:

We have too much adminstrative expenses in our Public School System, or too many chiefs, with too much pay. Then you would have the funds to pay the teachers a decent wage.

2. Support Education Vouchers

And I'm suggesting everyone, not just the grossly over-zealous, New York-based Parents for Choice in Education! Everyone should support vouchers. Here's why. Deseret News reports

Utah's student enrollment is expected to grow from 540,000 to more than 680,000 students by 2014. At the same time, Utah will need 44,000 new teachers, according to a Utah Educator Supply and Demand study by Utah State University.

Yet fewer people want to become teachers. The number of new teachers graduating from Utah colleges and universities dropped 13 percent between 2003 and 2006, the Utah Foundation reports.

There is very little educational choice in Utah. When there is more choice, there is more competition. When there is more competition, there is more excellence. When there is more excellence, teacher salaries can't help but go up, in public as well as private schools. That's a good thing for everyone.

One way to reduce the steamrolling tide of 140,000 new school children is to diversify education in Utah. It's time for the public education system in Utah to ask for help. It can't possibly field 44,000 new teachers in the next 7 years all by itself. There is no shame in admitting this. Rather, there is actually a great deal of nobility in admitting that there are various good ways to "skin a cat", and various good ways to educate a child.

Summary

The legislature went a fair distance last year in encouraging teachers to stay in Utah by issuing a substantial pay increase. It appears by the statistics, however, that it wasn't quite enough. Wee'll get the kind of education for our children that we want by paying the right kind of prices. We're a lot closer, but we're still not there.

It would show a great volume of good faith if at the same time the Utah public education establishment were to encourage alternate and equally good forms of education in Utah. Working together we can ensure that all of our children receive a good education, and not just most of them.

So let's encourage our legislators this year to continue toward the goal of providing adequate compensation for public school teachers. And at the same time, let's all vote for education vouchers in November.

Comments

  1. Besides the comment you found that was posted to the Deseret News story what evidence do you have that Utah's administrative costs are out of line with classroom instruction costs? Last I heard Utah had lower administration costs in our public education system than any other state in the nation.

    Why do you think vouchers will help with the teacher shortage? You weren't very specific in your assertion about how choice will create more excellence and therefore better paid teachers.

    In order for vouchers to work in Utah we will need thousands of parents to decide private schools are worth the massive out of pocket expenses they will cost even with the help of a voucher. Since our state currently has a lower percentage of students in private schools than nearly any other state in the country I wonder why you assume this will happen. I could understand if you were making your unfounded assertions in a state where people are clearly unhappy with their public schools but that doesn't seem to apply here. If vouchers end up costing taxpayers more than they save because not enough adopters come forth to balance out the voucher students who never would have gone to public school in the first place how will we fulfill your first solution to the teacher shortage problem? Raise taxes?

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  2. I don't care if Utah's administrative expense is "in line" with other states. Keeping up with the Jonses that are also administratively top heavy is hardly a formuly for successful education. And education outcomes bear this out.

    Jeremy assumes that the number of private schools will remain static or will remain low if vouchers are implemented. This has not been the case in any place that has implemented vouchers. The private market responds and private school choices expand to meet the growing demand. Why should Utah's experience be any different?

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  3. Reach,

    I'm not arguing that there isn't enough supply of private school student slots. I'm arguing that there currently isn't enough demand and that vouchers don't seem likely to change that...especially under the current plan.

    As voucher amounts go up I'd assume demand will too...Of course that would also mean that we'd need a lot more voucher adopters to make the voucher plan save enough to make up for the freeloaders (voucher children from families which never would have put their kids in public schools in the first place).

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  4. Jeremy,

    Time will tell. What I'm surprised at is that the anti-voucher crowd doesn't want to let time tell the tale. You're right--we'll need thousands to avail themselves of the opportunity for it to be worth it; if no one chooses to do it, then there is no harm, no foul. Why aren't you willing to at least let history play itself out?

    As regards administrative costs--I don't know. I included the comment from the DesNews in my article as an example of what some people think. I would like to know, however, if every district can equal Granite in offering new teachers $30k to start; if they can't, this says something about their administrative costs.

    I'm not sure why you're worried about the freeloaders, either. Yes, it will be a drain, but the whole point is about choice in education. In a perfect world, every family would pay every dime for their own children's education. But since this world is far from perfect, we subsidize each other. Why should someone who has home schooled, for example, not be allowed to use part of that subsidy to go to a private school? If they decided to go to a public school, they'd be using an even bigger subsidy.

    I agree with Reach that we should let the market run its course. I think that the $500 - $3,000 subsidy that each child gets won't cover the entire cost of a private school (I don't think it was ever intended to), but it will put a lot of people a lot closer to being able to afford it. And if they do, the choice and variety will be a great thing for everyone.

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