A Teacher’s ‘Impossible Choice’

Does Charter School Pay Make It Worse?

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To the Editor:

I thought Lesley Guilmart’s Commentary “ ‘An Impossible Choice’ ” (June 4, 2008) would make excellent fodder for an advice columnist. For this one time only, I would like to take up that role.

Ms. Guilmart, you have a problem: You want to have children and provide them with all the nice things you think they deserve, but you also would like to continue teaching at a charter school, and you are unsure of whether you can afford to raise a family on a teacher’s salary.

First off, it is unfortunate that you work at a charter school. I say this because charter schools are notorious for the cheap wages they pay. One way around this would be to organize a union at your school and then begin to bargain collectively.

We have a union here in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers. A public school teacher here with five years of experience, like yourself, earns $50,153 a year; if that same teacher has a master’s degree, the pay is $56,048.

Is that a lot of money? It’s OK, and occasionally I hear teachers grumble, but I don’t know of any who are working a second job outside of education to make ends meet. That’s important. It gives teachers more time for lesson planning, updating their content-area knowledge, or, in your case, spending time with family.

If starting a union is out of the question, then you should consider moving back to the Northeast, where the labor laws are stronger. You could even apply to work at my school. We have a supportive administration, many hardworking teachers, and some great students. Many of those students have backgrounds similar to those of the students you currently are working with, and would benefit immensely from your diligent effort.

My question to you, Ms. Guilmart, is this: If you want a career in teaching, why are you wasting your time working at a charter school?

Walter Weis
Forest Hills, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Gifted teachers like Lesley Guilmart—and her students, if she opts out of teaching—are the latest victims of the current system. Her “impossible choice” is not the result of inadequate public support for K-12 education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, taxpayers nationwide are very generous, providing nearly $10,000 per student, with current spending for Texas students at $7,561 each. So, if Ms. Guilmart has 22 students in her Houston classroom, more than $166,000 supports them. I suspect she would gladly stay in teaching for less than half of that.

Part of her predicament as a charter school teacher results from the system’s policy of discrimination against students in these schools. In nearly all the states with charter laws, such schools receive less money per child than traditional public schools.

John D. Merrifield
Professor of Economics
University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas

Vol. 27, Issue 43, Page 34

Published in Print: July 16, 2008, as A Teacher’s ‘Impossible Choice’
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