I am the CEO of Uplift Education, a growing college preparatory network of public charter schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. As such, I am a public employee, serving the interest of the taxpayers in our region. There are a lot of excellent people employed in the public sector who dedicate their lives to the good of the people in their cities and states. Most are modestly paid. Teachers with 10 years experience in North Texas make on average about $52,000. They don't teach to make a lot of money, and frankly, few educators expect to. But given the number of people involved in important public sector jobs, I was simply stunned when I came across this graphic in Tod Robberson's blog in the Dallas Morning News. It depicts the highest paid public employees by state across the nation. Take a moment to process this.
Coaches. No offense to our friends who lead sports teams, but something is out of whack with our priorities when 40 states make a coach the highest paid public employee. I get that there's a lot more to this picture. We could look at the number of highly paid public servants and then divide them by job type to see where we really make the largest investment. We could examine community impact reports for our public institutions and compare and assess the outcomes for the leaders of those organizations. Those measurements might actually tell us a lot about our actual priorities than this chart.
In my opinion, though, this chart says that across the nation we do not really believe that education is more important that athletics.
This needs to change. When a college president or medical school dean is the highest paid public employee, it sends a message to the citizens of that state that we want you and your children to become better thinkers or healthier people. When it is a football coach, which is the case in my home state of Texas and 25 other states, the message is: we want you to be entertained. It certainly cannot be that our students should expect to find a career in professional sports. The NCAA estimates that only 0.08% of high school athletes will ever be paid to play professionally.
We can debate the value of athletics. I am certainly not against it. There are wellness, teamwork and goal-oriented outcomes to sports. I know that in many cases, sports teams provide a great deal of academic accountability. In fact, from 2004-2007, at the height of the University of Texas football team's success, UT football maintained a graduation rate of 71%. As a UT alumna, I am proud that Mack Brown increased the graduation rate by 14%. I also recognize that UT's football program has brought in a lot of money for the University over the years.
I don't think we should do away with the program. I do, though, have a hard time seeing how entertaining us and helping a few football players graduate is more important than the contributions of our top educators, who set the education agenda in motion for thousands of students across Texas. Where is the greatest long term impact derived? The answer is obvious to me.
This is not an argument for the value of one person over the other or the contribution of sports to society. I am also not concerned about helping university presidents and deans secure higher salaries. I am more interested in the signals we send our youth about what we value. For the future success of all our students, we need to make sure the message is loud and clear: education is our top priority!