Editorials

Teacher minimum wage is another state demand without cash

Teachers in Illinois by 2022 will be paid a minimum wage of $40,000, with automatic raises, unless Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes a bill headed for his desk.
Teachers in Illinois by 2022 will be paid a minimum wage of $40,000, with automatic raises, unless Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes a bill headed for his desk.

Illinois state lawmakers were at it again, having their way with our schools without making the commitment to support them.

Unless Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes it, Illinois will set a minimum wage for teachers. Next year the least teachers could be paid would be $32,076, increasing to $40,000 by the 2022-23 school year under Senate Bill 2892.

Worse, the minimum teacher wage would be tied to inflation forevermore. Teacher salaries are built on steps of experience and education, so pressing up the minimum for a newbie with a bachelor's also boosts the 18-year veteran teacher with a master's degree plus 32 graduate hours.

The teachers' unions are ecstatic. School administrators are displeased. Taxpayers should be apoplectic.

You have to wonder how long it will be before the smartest folks in the state decide police, firefighters, nurses, diesel mechanics, lawyers, Elizabethan poetry professors, politicians and other worthy professionals need a base wage to keep them in the Land of Lincoln, too. Why are teachers so special that they were singled out for a wage guarantee?

Might it have something to do with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and their steady support of the majority party's campaign warchests? Democratic state representatives Katie Stuart and LaToya Greenwood were House sponsors of this bill.

State lawmakers have yet to show any shame or awareness of how their demands on schools without the cash to finance those demands hamstrings our education system. From 1992 to 2014, Illinois lawmakers passed 145 unfunded mandates on the schools to add $200 million in costs, or $1.38 million per mandate.

But a teacher minimum wage is the mother-of-all unfunded mandates.

No Chicago-area school districts would be impacted, making this palatable to the Democratic majority's stronghold. Their teachers are all well above the minimum.

And little impact should be felt locally, with Belleville Elementary District 118 teachers already at a minimum of $36,461 this year.

The impact will be felt in the small, rural school districts where there is little property value to tax and cover the mandatory raises. The Illinois State Board of Education said 500 schools will need to boost salaries.

Remember that extra money state leaders just sent thanks to the new school funding formula? Phffffthtt. That's the sound of this flash fire consuming it.

We don't get the need. The national average for teacher salaries was $58,064, and Illinois is already above that at $64,516. Belleville elementary teachers averaged $68,975 last year.

The statewide associations of school boards, school administrators, school financial officers and principals on June 15 banded together to oppose the teacher minimum wage and ask Rauner to veto it. They also note the increased minimum will push up all teacher salaries across the salary grid. They warn that the state's demand without the money will lead to "layoffs, dismissals and program cuts across the board in Illinois schools."

A-hem. Not to mention property tax increases, the place schools are forced to go when the state doesn't provide the money.

We elect school boards because we expect local control of our schools. That includes how much our local teachers should be paid and how much we're willing to invest in them to yield the best education for our children at the price we can afford.

We don't tell Oak Park which textbooks to use. We don't tell Decatur how many hours of math they should teach. We don't tell West Frankfort to invest in Chromebooks for their pupils.

Local decisions to fit local needs, sensibilities and conditions. Thank you, Chicago and Springfield, but butt out of our classrooms. And we'd thank the governor to veto Senate Bill 2892.

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