To the editor:
The Utah State Legislature and I don’t often agree on policy, and I think it’s important to hold representatives’ feet to the fire when they’re wrong on the issues. But I think it’s equally important — if not more so — to give credit when credit is due, especially when one’s political philosophy is often at odds with their representatives’.
As the spouse of a public school teacher and a public school teacher myself, I applaud the Legislature’s addition of $400 million to the state’s education budget, of which $121 million are earmarked for $1,500 one-time bonuses to public school teachers, $1,000 bonuses for full-time staff, and a prorated bonus for part-time staff. The “COVID-19 educator assistance stipend” is meant to reward teachers for their tireless efforts. Governor-elect Spencer Cox had this to say. “This pandemic has put extraordinary strain on our entire education community, including school janitors, cafeteria workers, nurses, counselors, bus drivers, and especially our teachers. These frontline workers have earned our heightened respect, but they deserve tangible rewards as well.”
The Utah State Legislature got it right this time — with one caveat for which we should hold their feet to the fire. The proposed legislation contains a provision that precludes online-only school districts like the Salt Lake City School District from receiving the bonuses. That might sound reasonable at first —especially if you aren’t familiar with the increasingly heavy workload of a public school teacher; but as an educator who had to create and achieve proficiency with online, student-friendly curricula in a hurry this spring and continue that proficiency while also teaching in person in the fall, I can attest that those online-only educators aren’t working any less tirelessly than the rest of us in brick and mortar classrooms.
To be sure, students need to be in classrooms, and there are hard consequences for kids not being there — especially for the most disadvantaged among them. We will continue to reckon with those consequences for some time; but those educators working in school districts which have gone online as a result of administrative decisions made in accordance with health guidelines shouldn’t be frozen out. They’re still working to right the ship in some of the most difficult circumstances in which a teacher can find themselves.
If not “hazard pay” or “reward for heroic efforts,” consider the proposed bonus back-pay for services rendered. Utah’s education budget has consistently earned the state last place (51st) in per-pupil funding. As of August, 2020, the state ranks 48th in average teacher salary, down from 43rd in 2018-19. As the saying goes, we don’t teach for recognition or for the money. But when those things are offered and past-due, offer them to all of us.