This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

By Sam P.K. Collins

Amid discussions about COVID-related learning loss and teacher burnout, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla. Dist. 24) has set her sights on ensuring teachers are better compensated for their work in the classroom. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Wilson joined former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and leaders of the Teacher’s Salary Project in the U.S. Capitol to highlight these efforts and further shed light on the leaps and bounds teachers made during the pandemic. 

In December, Wilson introduced the American Teacher Act, which would incentivize states to raise the minimum annual salary for teachers to $60,000, adjusting for inflation. 

The median annual teacher salary in the U.S. is nearly $64,500 with teachers in New Mexico, Mississippi, Florida, South Dakota and Arizona making significantly lower than that. 

That’s why Wilson, a former school principal and teacher, said her efforts would help attract more teachers and make the field more competitive. 

The introduction of this bill comes several months after teachers, in the throes of a pandemic, developed and executed curricula for thousands of young people quarantined at home. 

By the time schools transitioned back to in-person learning, the K-12 education landscape had experienced significant changes, especially as it relates to the teacher workforce. 

Though teacher turnover nationally stood at 16% at the end of the last school year, some states saw rates rise to between 24 and 54 percent. 

There’s an awakening in this nation by parents and grandparents that if not for teachers, we would have lost half of these young people through the pandemic.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla. Dist. 24)

Teachers opted to either leave their schools or the profession altogether. Similarly, teacher training programs experienced an enrollment decline in recent years.  

Reasons for the teacher exodus include low pay, high stress levels, increasing demands on time, and safety concerns. 

Wilson, chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee, pointed out that those who continue to work in schools often take on side gigs to pay bills and meet familial obligations. 

Miles away from the U.S. Capitol, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee engaged public school teachers in contract negotiations that started before the pandemic. 

Issues that kept the discussions at a standstill centered on teacher planning time, and salary and benefits. All parties came to an agreement shortly before the Thanksgiving break. 

Weeks later, the Washington Teachers’ Union ratified the contract. It now goes before the D.C. Council for a vote. 

The American Teacher Act will soon navigate its own legislative process in a Republican-dominated House. In acknowledgment of that reality, Wilson said she set the minimum salary at a level she expected to keep the bill intact. 

All in all, Wilson’s ultimate goal centered on ensuring that teachers could live a life reflective of the crucial role they play in developing young people. 

“There’s an awakening in this nation by parents and grandparents that if not for teachers, we would have lost half of these young people through the pandemic,” Wilson said. 

“They would be so far behind and ungovernable. It’s time for our nation to understand that most parents drop off these children to school, and they’re giving their children to teachers to raise for most of the day.”

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