On Teachers’ Striking Over Salary

It has been said that the government which governs least also governs best. And as a libertarian, I think the government’s interference with those things which can be handled locally should be avoided. I have often remarked that the federal government should not be involved with school lunches. But the recent spate of teacher strikes makes me wonder where this nonsense will end.

There will always be a lowest-paid, 50th of 50 (or 52nd of 52 counting Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico). When West Virginia teachers walked out claiming that they were the 47th lowest-paid state in the nation. But one has to also look at salary with respect to cost of living. The cost of living in West Virginia cannot hold a candle to the costs of living in New York, Florida, and California. Now in the wake of the West Virginia teachers’ success, Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers are following suit. If this nonsense progresses, there will be annual strikes as the lowest-paid teachers climb the ladder only to push other states to lower strata who will then complain that they deserve raises because they are suddenly the lowest-paid. So where does this cycle end?

The federal government absolutely should not take upon itself to pay public school teachers a base salary. Doing so would disproportionately benefit teachers with lower costs of living by boosting their discretionary income. A national salary would also cause other states to bear the expenses of states with higher costs of living. But one thing that the federal government could do—and should do—is to publish a salary guideline that states can use to establish levels of fair compensation. Then rather than complaining that teachers in a given state are the nth lowest-paid in the nation, they can instead complain that their states are not indexing the national guideline for that state’s cost of living. This would be an apples-to-apples analysis and maybe that will stop the moaning and keep teachers and students in their classrooms.

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