For the past six years, educators in Washington State have gone without a cost of living adjustment to their salary. In two of those years, 2011 and 2012, teacher salaries actually went down. All of this despite the fact that back in 2000 the state voted two-to-one in favor of Initiative 732, which provided an automatic, annual COLA.
Although many legislators oppose it, Governor Inslee has proposed reinstating the COLA for several reasons. He thinks it’s fair, he thinks we can afford it and he thinks the State Supreme Court has essentially mandated it, by insisting that the state spend more on education.
I agree. Since 2006 teachers have lost 16% of their purchasing power. Housing, groceries, fuel and college prices have gone up, while our salaries have either gone down or stagnated. A COLA, by definition, is not a salary increase. It is a salary adjustment; a device meant to keep salaries parallel to the cost of those goods and services that we use our salaries to purchase. The absence of a COLA, also by definition, is a salary decrease; there’s no other way to conceptualize it.
When voters passed I-732 fourteen years ago, critics were complaining that we were passing a spending bill without a corresponding mechanism to pay for it. Maybe not, but consider this: in a state that’s essentially financed by sales tax revenue, the sales tax is effectively that mechanism. As the cost of goods and services rises, so too does the sales tax. Since teacher salaries are financed by sales tax, increased revenue should correspond to increased expenditure.
Another point that bears mentioning is that the workload of teachers in recent years has greatly increased coincidental to an actual decrease in salary. We’re doing more work for less money. The new teacher evaluation system requires, in my estimation, at least 40 hours per year of hard, thoughtful work by every teacher in the state. Although some of this work has been incorporated into our in-service calendar, not all of it has, and even those hours that are part of our paid time have effectively displaced other, necessary tasks, so that the net result has been an additional 40 hours of work time.
In addition to the increased workload resulting from the new evaluation system, our class sizes have also gone up. Fifteen years ago I was used to classes to 23 or 24. Now it’s more like 28 to 30. Every new kid in my room means more time planning lessons and more time evaluating and scoring student work. As a fourth grade teacher, I can feel the difference in my workload when my class size goes up by five percent; I can only imagine what it’s like for my high school colleagues, especially those charged with reading and grading extended student writing samples.
I sympathize with our lawmakers. They’re on the hot seat. They have a lot of programs to fund and not enough money to fund them. That’s a tough job. But remember, that’s the job they were begging us for. Remember all those yards signs and TV ads? Our legislators not only knew what they were getting into, they couldn’t wait to start doing it. So do it. Teachers have gone too long without a COLA. That has to end.
More work for less money isn’t fair.