Over the next two years, Nebraska will receive $234 million in federal stimulus money to bolster state aid to schools. That represents a one-time funding source, but Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) wants to use it to boost teacher salaries, a recurring expense.
Heineman sent a letter to the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA), the state teachers union, encouraging it to advocate for higher salaries during contract negotiations. Critics charge there is no practical way the districts could sustain the raises after two years, when the funding dries up. Nebraska ranks 43rd nationwide in teacher salaries but implemented an average increase of $1,033 base pay per teacher statewide for the 2009-10 school year.
“I am skeptical of mandating how school districts spend their state aid, but I’ve grown increasingly concerned that the substantial increases in state aid have not been reflected in teacher pay,” Heineman wrote in his letter to NSEA, distributed to thousands of teachers. “Superintendent salaries seem to be increasing at a significant rate while teacher salaries are not. That needs to change.”
Unions ‘Eat Their Young’
“Once I asked a school administrator why the taxpaying public was unable to raise the lower end of the pay scale without raising the top end. The frustrated reply was, ‘Do you not know that the NSEA eat their young?'” said Mike Groene, chairman of the Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association.
Beginning teachers’ pay in Nebraska ranges from $25,000 to $34,000. The NSEA charges its 28,000 members $500 apiece in annual dues.
School boards making budgeting decisions must weigh the fact that in two years the district will have much less “stability and flexibility” when federal stimulus money now included in the state aid formula is gone, said Ed Zimmer, a member of the Lincoln Board of Education.
So for some Nebraskans, the governor’s letter further complicates the discussions on teacher salaries, as tension is already high because of changes in education budget priorities.
“The governor’s letter is insinuating districts have enough money to increase salaries substantially, and that’s not true,” said John Bonaiuto, executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards.
Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is a policy fellow in education studies at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.