Yes on I-732: Recruit the best teachers for our kids

By MICKI CUNNINGHAM

In 19 months, I will retire from the institution that I have been a part of since September 1947, when I became a student in Alta Mae Crook’s morning kindergarten class at Garfield Elementary School. Public Education has given me gifts that are immeasurablea solid academic foundation that prepared me well for my profession, a lifelong love of learning, a fulfilling career teaching junior high students and a wealth of friends in the colleagues who willingly give of themselves far beyond the working day. I am however, worried about the future of public education and the promise it holds for the children of our communities. The public school teacher is on the way to becoming an endangered species.

Each and every day the media feature articles reporting one of a myriad of problems, the genesis of which lay in the teacher shortage With the words, "Teachers Wanted," a Newsweek magazine cover recently proclaimed a teacher shortage of more than 2 million nationwide. Compounding the problem is the fact that more than half of all teachers currently in classrooms, are expected to retire over the next decade.

The state of Washington is moving toward a crisis. According to a study conducted at Washington State University, the state will need to hire 40,000 new teachers over the next decade. The graduation rate from the state’s colleges and universities cannot begin to approach this number, but what is even more devastating is the raiding of our college campuses by other states in competition for well-trained teachers. Oregon and California school districts are wooing Washington graduates with signing bonuses and higher salaries. Some states are forgiving college loans and assisting teachers with first-time home mortgages.

Intensifying the competition between education communities is the private sector siege on our education graduates. Corporations are infiltrating job fairs, citing the need for teachers who can educate their own employees as their organizations experience the move into the age of technology.

In an April 2000 teacher supply and demand study by the Washington Office of Public Instruction, surveys were mailed to all 296 school districts in the state. With a response rate of 92 percent, local districts reported teacher shortages in 19 of 22 subject areas, including math, science and technology.

So, what are we doing to attract and keep the best educators here in Washington? There is much talk about education this election year. These facts need to be considered before casting a ballot on November 7.

n Washington’s teachers and other educational employees have received no raise in four of the last eight years.

n Over the last decade, Washington state has accumulated a $1.1 billion state budget surplus.

n Between 1990 and 1996, teacher attrition rates increased dramatically — by 69 percent across the state of Washington.

n Teacher salaries in Washington remain below the national average and lag significantly behind all the West Coast states.

n The cost of living has risen by 25 percent since 1993.

n Average per capita income in Washington has risen by 41 percent, while teacher salaries have been adjusted by just 12 percent (1992-2000).

n According to recent reports, over 50 percent of those entering the teaching profession leave in the first five years.

Across the employment spectrum, Washington teachers are paid much less than many others with similar education and experience. In this prosperous economy, with so many opportunities for talented professionals, we need to do better.

That is why 298,722 Washington state voters signed petitionsin every local community across the stateto qualify Initiative 732 for the November ballot. I-732 is a straightforward initiative that would provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment to Washington teachers, school employees and certain community and technical college staff, beginning in the 2001 school year.

A bipartisan coalition of citizens, local organizations and the education community is committed to attracting and keeping the best here in Washington and has united to form Citizens for Quality Educators in support of I-732. Together, they are saying Yes to Initiative 732.

As we face a serious teacher shortage, we must offer more competitive salaries to keep the best here in Washington. From the classroom to the lunchroom, from the library to the nurse’s office, dedicated teachers and staff are working together for the quality education of our children.

Thousands of teachers, parents, staff and local citizens from every corner of the state have endorsed I-732. They have been joined by the Washington Parent Teachers Association (PTA), Washington principals and superintendents and local school boards, Gov. Gary Locke, state Superintendent of Schools Terry Bergeson and legislators throughout the state.

Recruiting talented dedicated educators for our children is one of the most important steps we can take to improve the quality of our schools. Passing I-732 and providing an annual cost-of-living increase will help. Vote YES on I-732 to attract and keep the best for our children.

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