Representative LaKeshia Myers

By LaKeshia N. Myers

Growing up, my parents often told me, “you get out of it what you put into it”—the “it” could be a variety of things: school, sports, or overall effort in one’s life. But what was certain, was that there had to be an investment.

I find that our society’s investment in education is no different. For years, education has been fiscally neglected; educator salaries, have remained relatively flat and student achievement has suffered.

In Wisconsin, we have seen the overall investment in both K-12 and higher education decrease, meanwhile our spending on corrections and law enforcement have continued to increase.

Allison Dikanovic of the Neighborhood News Service outlined the rising costs associated with juvenile incarceration.

According to her article, for every young person a county sends to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake, the county needs to pay the Department of Corrections a daily rate.

Juvenile incarceration costs the county $144,000 a year per youth. For fiscal year 2019-2020, the yearly rate for a young person to go to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake is $182,865 and for 2020-2021, it goes up to $200,932.

To put this in perspective: one year of education at Harvard University costs $46,000. Therefore, it costs more to incarcerate a child in Wisconsin than to educate one in four years at Harvard University.

According to the Center for American Progress, the teacher shortage in Wisconsin is somewhat of a nuanced issue. The aftermath of Act 10, teacher licensure requirements and population decrease in rural districts are some factors that contribute to the rough terrain of K-12 education.

But nothing is as apparent as the fact that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to attract and retain educators to the profession. One alarming reason for this has been teacher pay.

Prior to Act 10, most teachers were paid based on a scale that measured their educational level and their years of experience. There were slight increases in pay for each year of satisfactory performance and the more education one earned, was rewarded by a bump in pay.

According to a 2012 article in the Journal Sentinel, graduate school enrollments in education began to sharply decline after the enactment of Act 10 because school districts were no longer required to pay teachers for earning advanced degrees.

When we devalue educational attainment, especially in the teaching field, this causes a ripple effect. If teachers are not valued for their education, why should we expect students or parents to respect education or treat educators as professionals?

In no other profession are individuals expected to work beyond their prescribed hours, have advanced knowledge, answer phone calls at home, work from home, and oversee extracurricular activities without being compensated. This is a troubling phenomenon and must be addressed if we ever hope to regain our standing on the world stage. But, just remember we only get out of it, what we put into it.

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Courier. 

COMMENTARY: You Get What You Pay For: Putting Our Money Where Our Values Are

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