Thank a Teacher with #WorthyWages

Originally posted on AFT's blog, SchoolHouse Voices.

This week, parents, elected officials, students, and communities are engaging in National Teacher Appreciation Week. For one week every year, teachers across the country are acknowledged for their often selfless contributions and thankless efforts.

Ohio has more than 100,000 teachers. I thank them for being an example for us all and for opening doors of opportunity for Ohio's students. As we recognize teachers for their tireless work, we also call attention to the need for worthy wages for our early childhood educators.

Worthy Wage Day has served as AFT's call to action since 1992. Today, almost 25 years later, the salary of our early childhood educators is still so inadequate that we must continue to highlight it.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the 2015 median pay for preschool teachers was $28,570 per year, or $13.74 per hour. In my home state of Ohio, a recent Policy Matters Ohio report found that the state's median wage of a preschool teacher is under $20,000 per year, which is more than 17 percent below the 2015 federal poverty level for a family of four. That is unacceptable.

We know that early childhood educators play a critical role in the development of many of our nation's children. However, they are paid almost 40 percent less than workers with similar qualifications. Such low wages make it difficult for preschool programs to hire and retain effective teachers. As a result, the programs are subject to staffing shortages, higher rates of inexperienced teachers, high teacher turnover, and lower preschool quality, all of which disproportionately impact students who need preschool the most.

Research shows that quality preschool leads to better educational outcomes and higher job earnings. According to a 2015 White House report, The Economics of Early Childhood Investment, every $1 dollar spent on early childhood education yields $8.60 in return in adult earnings.

Early childhood education can also have profound impact on a child's reasoning and problem solving. Children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get into future trouble with the law. To ensure quality preschool programs that contribute to our children's success, the most important resource is a consistent pool of dedicated, qualified classroom educators.

We must do better. The men and women, who are responsible for educating children during their formative years, should not have to live at or near the poverty line. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

We must invest in a wage worthy of the work they are doing. The future of our nation depends on it.