Beshear’s plan to raise teacher pay is a good start, but not enough to tackle Kentucky’s teacher shortage

Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear made headlines by proposing a $2,000 pay raise for Kentucky teachers. It’s not yet clear how he plans to pay for it, and of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll win the election, either. But regardless, after all the fiery rhetoric and absurd commentary surrounding Kentucky education these past couple of years, I’m happy to listen to anyone who wants to hand me more money.

“The reality is we’re faced with a critical shortage of teachers,” Beshear told the Herald-Leader last week. “And that impacts our kids and the next generation and the next workforce.”

As I’ve pointed out before, any conversation about solving the teacher shortage has to start with the money. I’m glad that the guy who’s likely going to be Kentucky’s next governor gets that, and I like that he’s actually working on a proposal to make it happen instead of dancing around the issue. And it’s an achieveable goal, too — especially if a potential Beshear administration can work with the members of our General Assembly to find new means of revenue for the state.

It’s also something that we owe to our teachers, who have continually been asked to do more with less in these tumultuous past few years. Remember Hope Brown, the Kentucky teacher who appeared on the cover of Time magazine? No teacher should be forced to work multiple jobs. That’s why I’m down with Andy’s plan.

But on the other hand, we also have to acknowledge that this proposal has another goal — to help solve Kentucky’s teacher shortage crisis —and to that end, I’m not convinced that Beshear’s plan goes far enough. 

Beshear’s proposed starting salary of $40k isn’t terrible, especially in a state like Kentucky where the cost of living is low. But when you consider the types of teaching positions that have the hardest time finding applicants, like STEM, realize that those same candidates could be making twice as much in their given industry. Until teachers’ salaries somehow end up in the same ballpark as engineers and accountants, there’s not a lot of financial motivation to go into teaching. An extra two grand a year would be a nice bonus to those of us who are already in the profession, but it’s probably not enough to make a real, lasting impact to our state’s teaching force.

Teaching is a calling, of course, and that means that those of us fortunate enough to be doing this work never began with the paycheck in mind. But with every passing day, it seems like I hear more stories like Nate Bowling’s that remind me of just how challenging it is to live out that calling every day. If we want our profession to truly thrive, it’s going to take a more systemic kind of change. We’ll need more than just a couple thousand bucks to start streamlining Kentucky’s best and brightest into classrooms of their own. 

So how do we get there, then? That’s the conversation I’m hoping to open up here, and in doing so, I’ll leave you with this line from Nate’s article above: “Teaching is a profession, and great teachers need to feel respected and empowered. If they don’t, they will leave — and they should.”

I think Kentucky is proving that right now, and hopefully, we’ll find our way soon enough.


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