Budget cuts sear into education

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Leslie Morris works at least 60 hours a week. She stays late, starts early and sits in on countless conference meetings. She must meet a quota but is provided with limited resources. Her successes do not come easily, and even when they do, no one seems to notice. Morris does not work at a firm, a big corporation, or even at an office. She works at an elementary school.

“It’s hard because we want to be great teachers and do all these extra things, but we do not have the time or the money,” said Morris, a fourth-grade teacher at Monte Vista Elementary School in the Jordan District. “It’s just frustrating because we want the best for the kids, but nobody’s willing to put that foot forward.”

[media-credit name=”Photo illustration by Luke Hansen” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
When kindergarten teachers show their students how to use scissors, this probably isn't the purpose they had in mind.
Teaching in Utah has successfully maintained a bad rap for years because of low salaries — in which teachers are becoming more and more unwilling to sign up for the time-consuming, strenuous and unappreciated career.

“People are not going to want to be teachers any longer,” said Tom Little, principal of Monte Vista Elementary. “Because the pay is not going to be

there. They don’t make money. It’s not until you start getting some years behind you that you start to make some money so that you’re not starving to death.”

The average salary for Utah teachers is $40,000 a year, according to a salary comfort index on teacherportal.com, while the average salary for California teachers is nearly $60,000 a year.

The reasons for the short-stacked compensation in Utah as opposed to other states are unclear, yet teachers and administrators have their theories for the deficit. Those theories include the idea that state legislators put minimal emphasis on education, choosing instead to put money into other aspects of the budget.

“Legislators don’t think it’s important,” Little said. “Our state representatives who are representing us on Capitol Hill, they give us the lip service but they don’t fund it. They don’t think education is important. If you go look at their voting records, it’s not.”

According to the 2010 voting records for the Utah state legislature, a proposed bill to provide grants that would reduce teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses for required classes and tests for certification was defeated in the House vote. On the other hand, a bill that would allow local schools to use revenue from certain property tax levies for educators’ salaries for 2010-11 was passed.

Another theory lies in the statistic showing Utah as the only state in the country with as many as 3.14 to 3.21 persons in a household, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder. Utah has more children on average than any other state, and thus receives more tax cuts that could have otherwise gone to education and other areas.

“Utahns have a lot more children,” Morris said. “And people with lots of children get lots of tax cuts. Which just seems silly that the more you use the system, the less you have to pay for it. As a parent, yes I like that tax cut. But at the same time, that money could be going to schools. Your kids are going to go to school, you should probably put money towards it.”

With the recession still heavily underway for education, government officials look to alternative options in bringing in revenue for education, such as an increased reliance on taxpayers.

“Lawmakers increasingly view higher education as a private good that should be supported more by students and donors, rather than as a public good that deserves state support,” said Jeffrey Selingo, in the Daily Report with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Both are plausible theories, yet there is a need to address the surplus of teachers fresh from college who might play a factor in bringing down the state average with their starting salaries. This does not, however, undermine the importance of raising teacher salaries. A once-esteemed profession has been ripped to shreds in claims that the U.S. education system has gone to the dogs. Perhaps if more money were put into the system, better results would ensue.

“Salaries are probably going to get worse before they gets better,” Morris said. “It’s not bad enough for people to be throwing tantrums about it yet — it’s going to take a lot of people to change the way the government works and the way money is used, and often wasted, at the district.”

With current salaries for new teachers rocking the bottom of the national barrel, it is next to impossible for these hard-working teachers to live. A teacher salary barely makes a dent in the rising stack of debt and loans that a college student often accumulates, and rarely graces the likes of a savings account.

“We haven’t had an increase in wages in the last three years,” Little said. “We’re not keeping up. Teachers put a lot of their own money back into their school for extra things that they need but aren’t getting.”

With freezes on salaries and increases in class sizes, Utah teachers are getting side slammed on every level, and the fact that Utah is ranked 49th in the nation for average salaries only adds to the beating.

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