It’s Time to Invest in TeachersDuring the past several months, there has been much discussion about the concept of school choice. Specifically, is school choice good or bad for our children?  Is it a positive or negative for our education system? As someone who has worked in the education industry for nearly two decades, providing public schools with communication and crisis counsel support, I believe the topic of school choice is an important one, but still secondary to the top issue (by far) impacting our country’s school systems – inadequate pay for educators.

If we are not committed to offering increased salaries for exceptional teachers, our classrooms will never be filled with the best candidates and our children, and society as a whole, will pay the price.

According to the National Education Association, the salary for public school teachers in Michigan declined eight percent from 1999 to 2013. This is the third-largest decline in teacher pay nationally during that time period.  Most agree our education system is struggling, and it will never recover if we don’t sufficiently invest in those most directly responsible for shaping young minds.

Our country’s continued reluctance to pay high-performing teachers what we regularly pay exceptional employees in the private sector continues to boggle the mind. Who is more important to our country’s long-term success than the men and women responsible for strengthening our children’s intellectual and emotional growth?  In a very real sense, we are talking about the investment in our collective future.

Imagine if every classroom was led by a passionate and motivated educator at the top of their field. Students would be inspired and eager to attend class every day. Parents would be engaged – holding meaningful conversations with their children at the dinner table each evening, rather than simply asking, “What did you do in school today?”

What I’m proposing isn’t covering new ground. But as the debate continues to heat up around school choice, we all must make sure we are worrying about the right things, those moves that can institute real change in real numbers. Offering top educators top pay would make it far easier to recruit innovators, real difference-makers into our classrooms. What is the incentive for someone to choose to become a teacher today? Many would say summers off or shorter days. But anyone who has worked in education knows that neither is true.

While school may be out for students in the summer, teachers are active in the summer months, preparing for the following school year by attending department and curriculum meetings, making improvements to curriculum, learning new technology or curriculum programs, participating in professional development and setting up classrooms. During the school year, while class may end for students at 3 p.m. each day, that is not the end of the day for the majority of teachers. Just because the classroom is empty, doesn’t mean teachers aren’t working. They’re grading tests, papers and homework assignments. They’re planning for upcoming classes and activities. They’re meeting with parents or providing extra help to students.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all teachers need to be paid like C-suite executives. Much like the private sector, pay must be based on performance. Thus, there must be compromise between the teacher’s union and school districts if true change is going to be achieved. I just hope it happens soon, because we’ve short-changed too many children for too long. If we’re going to return the American education system to a position among the top countries in the world, it’s time to invest in our teachers – certainly those who are well-deserving.

Joe DiBenedetto is a senior director leading the education practice at Lambert