Teachers need competitive wages, not be ‘armed security,’ education secretary says

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said teachers should not be turned “into armed security” in response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, but instead should receive support and resources amid a national teacher shortage.

“Teachers already do so much. We shouldn’t, as some have ignorantly suggested, turn teachers into armed security or expect that they should be putting their lives on the line when they walk into school,” he said Thursday at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

“Instead, we should be giving the teachers the support and resources that they need to do what they do best, which is to help children grow.”

Cardona said education leaders were struggling to fill vacancies and increase diversity in the workforce.

“Our schools and students need qualified teachers, and our teachers deserve livable wages,” he said, adding it was important to not only look at starting salaries, but also at teacher retention.

“Are we giving them a competitive salary? Are we giving them a wage where they can raise their families?” Cardona said. “That’s the question that we need to ask ourselves today, and it shouldn’t take schools to be closed and the crisis that we’re seeing where we don’t have enough teachers for us to appreciate what teachers contribute.”

The average annual starting salary for teachers across the country is $41,163, according to the Learning Policy Institute. 

Cardona said teachers in too many states qualify for government assistance with their salaries despite often being required to have postgraduate degrees.

“Name another profession where it’s been normalized to do more with less on your own personal time, on your own personal dime,” he said. “We’ve got to stop that, and we’ve got to stop normalizing that.”

In April, FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, released an analysis of spending plans from almost 4,000 school districts that educate 65 percent of the country’s public school students.

The analysis broke down the $55.4 billion in designated spending from those districts and found $13.5 billion, or about 24 percent, will go toward staffing. About one-third of that, or $4.7 billion, will go toward teachers, guidance counselors and academic interventionists, according to the analysis. 

“But given shortages of teachers and other staff in some parts of the country, some districts may struggle to hire the staff they need,” it said.

About $2.3 billion of the planned spending for staffing will go toward teacher recruitment and retention efforts, FutureEd found.

Resignations and retirements have mounted in schools across the nation in part because of the Covid pandemic. As of January, 44 percent of schools reported having at least one teaching vacancy, and nearly half had at least one staff vacancy, according to data released last month by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. More than half the vacancies were created by resignations, the data found.

Cardona said Americans “shouldn’t be surprised when we’re talking about a teacher shortage.”

“We see the ingredients that lead up to that. Do we have the will to address that as a nation?” he said.