Why do teachers in the US have to beg for supplies like pencils and paper? | Ross Barkan

Last week, $5,000 was dropped on the ice of a local hockey rink. The crowd was ready for entertainment and it was intermission.

School teachers fought it out for one-dollar bills to purchase classroom supplies.

One teacher took home $592 to pay for school supplies and programs in the “dash for money” scheme. Another teacher took $380.. CU Mortgage Direct, a mortgage lender, donated the cash.

The stunt was viralized and many commentators online were horrified. Why were teachers from public schools competing for funding, which should have come from the federal and state governments? What was the point of buying whiteboards, pencils and paper?

The answer is that not all states in the US properly fund public schools. And the federal government does not do enough to ensure every child has access to a school building that functions and a well-paid staff. While public school teachers in some states can be paid well and have strong union protections; many teachers must work second jobs to maintain a sense of middle-class living.

South Dakota is among the lowest in teacher salaries. Kristi Noem, a Trump favourite from South Dakota, is a Republican governor in rural states that tends to underfund their public schools. Because teachers’ unions are seen as a bastion for Democratic politics, they are often feared. Republicans such as Noem prefer weaker unions or none.

It’s moral to pay public educators less and not make them fight over classroom supplies. It’s also important on a practical level. Many public schools struggle to retain young teachers. New recruits can find it difficult to work long hours for low pay. However, talented teachers may decide after a few years to move into the private sector. Teachers don’t want to worry about how much it will cost to stock their classrooms properly with paper and pencils. The teaching profession should be the top choice for college graduates in America. Teaching is regarded as an elite profession in many wealthy countries around the globe. A teacher in Germany can earn more than a web developer or doctor in the United States. Teaching is not a top choice for many of the most highly-regarded American universities and colleges. They see Wall Street as a better place to work, whether in the tech or medical sectors.

The problem is that the federal government doesn’t spend much on public education. The vast majority of this cost is borne by the state and local governments. Property taxes are the main factor determining the quality of schools and the salaries of teachers in most counties. For their children’s education, wealthy parents pay more taxes. Schools with less income are left struggling to get federal funding.

There is hope for a better world. In 2018, West Virginia teachers went on strike for several days to protest low wages and rising healthcare costs. Similar strikes were held in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Teachers in West Virginia were able to secure small increases in their pay while rallying the support of the public.

Change will not come until the governors and states legislatures do more to support public schools, and the federal government provides cash to these school systems, when local politicians are unwilling to help. Joe Biden and the Democrat – run Congress should not allow Noem to fail South Dakota. The $768bn military spending bill was approved by Congress. It promises a de facto blank check for global warmongering and arms factories back home. It is largely unnecessary.

Congress members could instead consider donating large amounts of this cash to the public schools in America. Teachers would never again have to go to the hockey rink.

  • Ross Barkan, a New York City-based writer

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/14/teachers-us-beg-for-supplies-underfunded, The Guardian
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