The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

Did you ever
notice that when
a politician
does get an idea
he usually
gets it all wrong......  ...Don Marquis, archy's life of mehitabel (1934).

Commentary of the Day - May 14, 2000: Tax Breaks for Teachers - the Dumbest Idea Yet!

The Irascible Professor never ceases to be amazed by the dumb ideas politicians come up with in the attempt to remedy problems with our schools.  However, the recent proposal by California governor Gray Davis to exempt public school teachers from the state income tax strikes the IP as not only dumb but demeaning to boot.

Under Davis' proposal entry-level teachers earning about $35,000 per year would save about $500 in state income tax, while more experienced teachers who earn in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year would save approximately $1,350.  This sounds good on the surface; however, the amounts involved actually will be less because teachers will no longer receive a deduction for state income tax payments on their federal tax returns.  In addition, the tax break would not be reflected in either benefit levels or in contributions to the teachers' retirement system.

However, there are additional problems with Davis' proposal.  First, it singles out one group of public employees1 for a benefit not enjoyed by others.  Second, it will likely lead to demands from other groups of public employees for similar benefits.  Third, it basically treats teachers like charity cases.  The proposal is a subtle confirmation of what everyone in the state capitol already knows; namely, that teachers are woefully underpaid compared to other professionals with similar educational backgrounds.  In California most prison guards, who need only a high school diploma, get paid significantly more than teachers.

Rather than pit one group of public employees against another with this unwise tax break, the IP suggests that the appropriate course of action for the governor and the state legislature would be to raise teacher salaries to acceptable levels.  Doing so would attract more highly qualified individuals to the profession.

If you agree with the Irascible Professor on this issue, send a message to Governor Davis at  Let him know that we need to pay public school teachers decent salaries.
1In the interests of full disclosure, the Irascible Professor is employed by the California State University system; and, thus is a state employee.  However, you can rest assured that his views on this issue have not be colored by that relationship.

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© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.