30 years ago, small towns across Texas were doing a whole lot better than they are today.
And 30 years ago, small town teacher salaries were on par with (and in a number of cases) better than suburban and urban teacher salaries.
Today’s question… Are these two facts related?
The answer, absolutely.
30 years ago, small town teacher salaries were competitive with suburban and urban areas. And those salaries placed teachers comfortably in the middle class. Couple that with the fact that if you gave teachers a choice between make the same money living in small town Texas as you would living in big city Texas and a significant number of teachers chose the small town. Heck, my dream job was to finish my master’s in Houston and get to a small town high school before the ink was dry on my diploma.
With (in many cases) the school district representing the largest employer in small towns, the school district was the incubator of the small town middle class. And when the middle class is healthy, the town is healthy.
Then the political winds changed, and the new batch state politicians began to strategically and systematically shirk the state’s responsibility to adequately fund public schools. This impacted the small town schools the most. With personnel costs representing 80% to 90% of a school’s budget, they only way to balance the budget was to hold teacher salaries as close to stagnant as possible.
Fast forward a couple of years and the gap between rural and suburban/urban teacher salaries is now huge. Like $20,000.00 a year huge. Which means the small town school became a whole lot less attractive to the typical teacher.
And for the teachers who stayed or hired on at the small town school, the stagnant salary was sliding them towards the status of working poor.
Now, we have a smaller teacher pool, struggling to stay in the middle class, working for the largest employer (but steadily shrinking) in the town. Which means the town’s middle class is shrinking. And in a small town, a shrinking middle class means the town is dying.
Can this be reversed? I believe so. A huge first step is to significantly increase base teacher salaries (which requires the evil “T” word). First, provide enough state funding to make teacher salaries middle class competitive. Second, make rural teacher salaries competitive with suburban/urban teacher salaries and teachers will start to return to small towns. Which will jump start the small town middle class, which will boost the local economy, which will…
Think. Work. Achieve.
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