Teacher pay parity a big challenge

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Tonight we will learn the details of Gov. Ernie Fletchers plan for raising Kentuckys teachers salaries to a level equal with the average salaries paid teachers in surrounding states. Fletcher will deliver his budget address to the General Assembly 7 p.m. broadcast statewide on KET.

And presumably soon we will learn the details of House Democrats plan for accomplishing the same worthy goal.

A story in Sundays State Journal by reporter Molly Williamson illustrates exactly how far Kentucky must travel to reach salary parity with neighboring states, especially Ohio and Indiana, where teachers salaries are thousands of dollars higher than in Kentucky.

In the community alone, teachers salaries must rise substantially just to meet the average pay of Kentucky teachers.

In the 2003-2004 school year, Kentucky teachers were paid on average $40,849. Franklin County teachers that same year were paid $37,853, or nearly $3,000 less than the state average. Teachers in Frankfort city schools that year were paid $39,079 or $1,770 under the state average.

By stark contrast, teachers in Ohio were paid $47,495 on average in 2003-2004, and in Indiana $46,591.

Is there any wonder that teachers head across the Ohio River to earn $6,000 or $7,000 a year more to do the same job? Or that teachers in Franklin County simply head to surrounding counties where salaries are higher?

When the General Assembly reformed Kentuckys public school system in 1990 and raised taxes by $1 billion to pay for it, a large part of that money was devoted to raising teachers salaries to make them competitive.

But after the 2000 recession caused state tax revenues to plummet, funding for many education-reform programs languished or was cut back altogether. Kentucky teachers salaries fell steadily behind neighboring states.

We have to do once again whatever is necessary to catch up.

The funding plans for serious teacher pay raises Fletcher and House Democrats propose cannot come too soon, especially for teachers in this community.

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