Yesterday I said this:
But the basic problem is resources. [... T]aking the money we're spending on war, and spending it on education instead... will go a long way toward turning this back around and helping us turn out a well-educated throng of high school graduates, prepared for the 21st century world.That is what the federal government can do about the deplorable state of funding for education in the United States, and I believe in it strongly. But I didn't mean to imply that's where it should end. As a society, our priorities are wrong.
According to the American Federation of Teachers' salary survey, the average salary for a teacher, nationwide, in 2004 was $46,597 (the average starting salary was $31,704). In the state-by-state breakdown, Connecticut and California lead the nation, with average salaries of about $56,500. Now, that average of $46,597 actually is above the average for "all workers" ($43,693), but is less than that of other professionals: accountant ($56,102), computer systems analyst ($73,269), engineer ($78,023), attorney ($89,989).
But let's see where we're really spending our money on salaries....
The Corporate Library reports that the average CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 company made $11.75 million in total compensation in 2005 (the maximum was over $156 million).
A few years ago, star baseball player Alex Rodriguez signed up with the Texas Rangers, a ten-year contract worth $252 million — $25.2 million per year. (The team ended up buying out his contract in order to let him go after just three years.)
The Internet Movie Database lists Tom Cruise's salary for Minority Report (2002) and The Last Samurai (2003) at $25 million each, plus percentages of the movies' profits.
OK, the CEO is responsible for running a major corporation. We can debate how much that responsibility is worth, but there's a good deal of demonstrable value in that. We'll keep that in mind. We'll also keep in mind that the CEO gets paid that whether the company thrives or falters. Perhaps we should make their entire compensation dependent upon the success of the company.
A-Rod has unique skills, that's certain. Only a handful of people play baseball like him. But, well, when you get right down to it, what he does keeps some people entertained for a few hours, now and then. Same with Tom Cruise: maybe you saw Minority Report, maybe you saw The Last Samurai (I saw them both), and maybe those movies wouldn't have been as entertaining with a lesser-paid actor. Or maybe they would have.
But the teacher....
That's who trains our children for the future. That's who shapes the minds of the next generation of accountants and engineers and attorneys, of CEOs and baseball players and actors, of doctors and scientists and world leaders. And for one average CEO, we could hire 250 teachers. For one A-Rod, or one Tom Cruise, we could hire 550 teachers.
As with anything, it's not as simple as that, and I don't pretend it is. But it is as simple as this: those figures above represent a serious misplacement of priorities. We need to spend more money on our schools and we need to spend more money on our teachers. Our future generations depend on that.