We Need to Re-Emphasize the Importance of Teachers Over Infrastructure
Meredith Sims (PPS ‘25)
American education is suffering from an overemphasis on school facilities over teacher pay. As the United States falls further behind in world education rankings, this issue has become even more pressing, and we must save our historically strong education system. Throughout the country, there are a variety of massive ongoing and future building campaigns, coupled with limited teacher pay increases. I’ve witnessed the detrimental effects of this trend in my own community, as large bonds have failed to address the lack of a teacher pay increase for over 6 years, prompting teachers to quit and students to suffer. As frustration over declining test scores and educational outcomes mounts in and beyond my community, it’s crucial to reanalyze the allocation of money in the education system. Despite much money invested in the education system, students and teachers are struggling to make education the best possible. Without advocating for increased teacher pay, education administrators will continue to be caught up in the allure of beautiful schools and stunning facilities, as in my community. As we are now recognizing the detrimental effects of this, my district is working to increase teacher pay and save the quality of our district’s excellence in education. Our country needs to re-evaluate how money is allocated between facilities and teacher pay, and re-emphasize the importance of the teacher across the nation.
Significant bonds and building campaigns have been instituted in various parts of the country. Most recently, the implementation of “Invest NC,” a new bond started by Governor Roy Cooper, plans to address a variety of issues within the North Carolina school system. Specifically, it will “invest $2 billion to build and renovate K-12 public schools.” He explains that “North Carolina schools have waited 23 years since the state’s last construction bond,” and that it’s necessary to act now. While Invest NC will improve schools’ infrastructure, it fails to address issues with teacher pay.[i]
In the Highland Park Independent School District located in Dallas County, TX, a $361 million bond was passed in 2015 to fund a campaign aimed at revolutionizing the district’s facilities.[ii] Specifically, the bond focused on completely rebuilding 3 of the district’s 4 elementary schools, building a new elementary school, and renovating the middle school.[iii] While the goal of this campaign was to improve education by providing improved facilities for learning and using technology, the district’s test scores have declined steadily since 2017.[iv] Highland Park Intermediate School 5th graders recently scored lower on the State of Texas Assessment for Academic Readiness (STAAR) test than one of Dallas ISD’s previously lowest-performing schools, which doesn’t correlate with the massive amount of education spending occurring in the affluent Highland Park community.[v] In contrast, the Dallas ISD school brought in excellent teachers to remedy the situation, which resulted in the scores surpassing Highland Park Intermediate School.[vi]
Statistics show that investing in teachers is what improves educational outcomes. Increasing teacher pay strengthens the pipeline of future teachers and reduces teacher turnover, which helps create a recipe for success in the classroom.[vii] Studies show that a “10% increase in teacher pay was estimated to produce a 5 to 10% increase in student performance.”[viii] Additionally, students complete more education, have 7% higher wages, and have a reduced rate of adult poverty when teacher salaries are raised.[ix] Even with these proven benefits of increasing teacher pay, many districts are still convinced that investing more in infrastructure will better benefit schools and children in the long run.
Local communities, school boards, and government officials need to re-orient their focus on how funds are distributed. For example, spending per pupil has tripled over the last half-decade.[x] However, the percentage spent on facilities has far outpaced the amount spent on teachers. Low teacher pay has become so dire that many teachers fall into the poverty bracket outlined by the government. Teacher salaries are so low in some states that teachers routinely qualify for public benefits like public health care programs, including children’s health insurance programs, and food stamps.[xi] We need to voice our opinion on this issue and get active from the ground up to implement change through the government bodies that make decisions on funding. What is it worth to have a beautiful school with failing students? It’s time we take action and reallocate the plentiful existing funds from gleaming infrastructure to what truly matters most: America’s teachers and the success of our future generations.
Meredith Sims (PPS ’25) is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’22 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.
[ii] Johnston, R. (2015, December), “Bond election makes community emotional” https://hpbagpipe.com/2667/features/bond-election-makes-community-emotional/
[v] Chung, E. (2018, September), “How to achieve meaningful change, according to a Teacher of the Year” https://dallasftworth.teach.org/articles/how-achieve-meaningful-change-according-teacher-year-0
[vii] Cleaver, S. (2020, February), “6 Proven Benefits to Increasing Teacher Pay”, https://www.weareteachers.com/benefits-to-increasing-teacher-pay/
[x] Eden, Max. (2019, July), “Issues 2020: Public School Spending Is at an All-Time High”, https://www.manhattan-institute.org/issues-2020-us-public-school-spending-teachers-pay
[xi] Cleaver, S. (2020, February), “6 Proven Benefits to Increasing Teacher Pay”, https://www.weareteachers.com/benefits-to-increasing-teacher-pay/