There's one issue that Democrats seem to agree on: Paying teachers more

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

Presidential candidates apparently agree on at least one issue, according to Thursday night’s debate.

Democrats across the board argued that the pay for teachers was insufficient and proposed plans that ranged from putting teacher pay on par with doctors’ to increasing their base pay to $60,000 a year.

“We need to pay teachers more, because the data clearly shows that a good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold,” tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang told the audience.

“I believe in public education,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said. “We have just got to pay teachers more. .... If we want to get the results that we expect for our children, we have to support and compensate the teaching profession. Respect teachers the way we do soldiers and pay them more like the way we do doctors.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas on September 12, 2019. (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker noted that the other candidates were just “talking about raising teacher salary. We actually did it in Newark, New Jersey.”

He added that “if I’m president of the United States, it is a holistic solution to education, from raising teacher salary, fully funded special education, but combating the issues of poverty, combating the issues of racial segregation, combating the issues of a criminal justice system.”

Canceling teachers’ student debt

The median student debt taken on by a borrower for an undergraduate and master’s degree is $50,879, according to a 2014 study by the New American Education Policy Program.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that kindergarten and elementary school teachers earned $57,980 in 2018, while middle school teachers earned $58,600 and high school teachers earned $60,320.

Kelly Harper in her 3rd grade classroom at Amidon-Bowen elementary school in Washington, DC. (Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Given that they weren’t going to see big salary raises over time and were struggling with expenses — from teaching supplies for their students to housing — many of them had applied for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that the U.S. government offers for people going into public service.

But the program has not been effective, with a rejection rate of 99.3%. Even when the program was expanded to include more people with a new Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, 99% were rejected — again.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has spoken about these issues, stated that she was the “only person on this stage who has been a public school teacher,” added that teacher pay was just one of the many issues she was going to address regarding teachers.

“I have proposed a two-cent wealth tax on the top one-tenth of one percent in this country,” she said. “That would give us enough money to start with our babies by providing universal child care for every baby age zero to five, universal pre-K for every three-year-old and four-year-old in this country… raise the wages of every child-care worker and preschool teacher in this country, cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the folks who’ve got it... and strengthen our unions.”

Under Warren’s plan, student debt for a vast majority of borrowers would be cancelled.

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks as former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren listen during the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, Texas, U.S., September 12, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also jumped in.

“We have teachers in this country who are leaving education because they can't work two or three jobs to support themselves,” Sanders said. “Which is why, under my legislation, we'll move to see that every teacher in America makings at least $60,000 a year.”

He added: “...because this is an incredible burden on millions and millions of young people who did nothing wrong except try to get the education they need, we are going to cancel all student debt in this country.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden proposed that the U.S. look at very poor schools, characterized as Title I schools, and “triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out — the $60,000 level.”

‘We have reached crisis levels’

Poor pay isn’t just affecting teachers, it also has an impact on the wider community. Reports suggest that there is a growing teacher shortage, and that teachers are increasingly leaving the profession.

“We have reached crisis levels,” Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), told Yahoo Finance in a previous interview. “There are over 300,000 teachers and other personnel who left — two-thirds of whom were before retirement.”

Detroit public school teachers join other teachers and union members in a rally to demand fair contract negotiations during the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention in Detroit, Michigan, July 26, 2012.(Photo: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

While other candidates proposed investing in Historically Black Universities (HBCUs), California Senator Kamala Harris highlighted the impact of having more black teachers in schools.

“This is a critical point, if a black child has a black teacher before the end of third grade, they're 13 percent more likely to go to college,” she explained. “If that child has had two black teachers before the end of third grade, they're 32 percent more likely to go to college. So, when we talk about investing in our public education system, it is at the source of so much. When we fix it, that will fix so many other things.”

And ultimately, making those changes started at the top, two candidates said.

“Step one is appoint a secretary of education who actually believes in public education,” Buttigieg said.

Warren, who has been a vocal critic of current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos added: “We will have a secretary of education who has been a public school teacher.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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