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Elizabeth Hampton

Elizabeth Hampton

Teacher Pay: A Smarter Investment for the New Year

Posted: 01/ 2/11 03:32 PM ET

The inequity of it all is really starting to get to me. News stations and sources, it seems, are constantly juggling juxtaposed stories on either the chronic financial woes of our school systems or the over indulgences of the banking industry. When a report on bloated salaries in the financial sector follows a report on teacher layoffs in cash-strapped systems, I cannot help but think we've got it backward.

Bloomberg News recently ran a piece on efforts being made to overhaul the financial industry. One suggestion offered in this report was for greater transparency regarding the extravagant bonuses and salaries of those in the banking industry. This added measure of transparency is meant to encourage high earners to be forthcoming about both why they received, and perhaps more intriguingly, deserved such financial reward for their services.

Of course, this suggestion has been met with a great deal of contempt, especially from those in finance. It has been argued that making such figures public might create unfair competition within the industry, thus thwarting the most talented individuals to the highest paying firms. That's right, for some folks, several million just doesn't cut it. Another argument posits that employing such scrutiny when looking at these salary figures is unfair because so few people have the skills necessary to be effective bankers. That's quite a bit of self-praise for an industry whose dishonesty and snafus made such a mess of housing foreclosures.

At the other end of the financial spectrum lies the nation's teachers. Our earnings have also popped up in the debate over equitable salary distribution, however, for very different reasons. A recent report found that in a class of 20 students, a good teacher is worth $400,000 in their student's future salaries and earnings. From this perspective, a good teachers is, in effect, using his or her knowledge, skills, and insights to raise future capital. Classrooms and school buildings are a far cry from the glamorous bustle that is Wall Street, but are the daily investments made in our schools not equally important? And at $400,000 of capital raised per class, does this teacher not deserve a bonus for capital gained? Or a least a respectable salary?

And yet, unfairness abounds. When I look out my classroom window in East New York, one of Brooklyn's poorest neighborhoods, a panorama of the midtown skyline lies before me. The looming buildings stand as emblems of the wealth and brilliance synonymous with New York City. And then, I look at the area surrounding my school. There are housing projects across the street and trash piled on the sidewalk. The only place to get food are the corner bodegas, and choices are limited to deli meats or processed snack food. I am appalled that such deplorable inequity can coexist in a city that shares everything from its name to its school system.

It's no secret that the rich are getting indelibly richer, the poor, insufferably poorer. Social and economic repercussions aside, isn't there a point where people in power recognize this divide as unconscionable? And yet, Bush Era tax cuts are extended to the wealthiest of Americans. The money that won't go into improving and supporting America's most needed infrastructures, like schools, is inexcusable. How can our highest earners feel good about owning a vacation home in Idyllic-Get-Away-USA when there are few rooms in my school with working computers?

When the banks were in trouble, taxpayer money came to the rescue. And while bolstering these failing systems was necessary to avoid immediate financial collapse, not taking action to support deteriorating school systems is egregious. Laying off teachers and cutting extra curricular programs may not destroy us as quickly as failing banks, but the impact of these choices will be felt long into the future. So, lets start allocating resources wisely and bolster our schools; unlike volatile economies and mercurial markets, investing in the education of our children is certain to bring a positive return.