Jeff Rubin: As the bumper sticker says – if you can read this, thank a teacher; they believed. . .

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If you can read this, thank a teacher. I saw that bumper sticker on the back of a car I was following on the highway the other day. The sticker brought a smile to my face. More than that, it made me think about the important role teachers have played in my own life growing up. A role that could just as easily be applied to anyone of us, including our children and grandchildren.

Throughout my formative years, in more ways than I may care to remember, teachers have been there for me. They coaxed, inspired, reinforced, disciplined, shaped, and believed in me; even when I didn’t believe in myself. Some have served as role models, others as advisors, and still others as father confessors. For the most part, teachers have been as much a part of my life as family. To some of my friends who had no strong home life, teachers were even more important.

Think about it. We turn our sons and daughters over to a teacher at the age of 5 or 6. We then ask that educator, and subsequent educators, to spend on average, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 170 days a year for the next twelve years with our children. The expectation is to come out at the end better prepared to make their way in a world far different than the one you and I inherited. That’s a lot of time to invest in a system, a lot to expect from our teachers, and quite possibly the biggest return a parent, grandparent, or taxpayer will ever get for their dollar.

Consider your investment. The Kentucky Board of Education is responsible for the development, coordination, and implementation of K-12 education in each of the Commonwealth’s 173 school districts.

There are 1,233 public schools in Kentucky. As of the 2015- 2016 school year, Kentucky’s public schools enrolled 655,475  students and employed some 42,040 public school teachers, a ratio of approximately 16 to one. The average current expense spending per pupil was $10,192. This does not include the almost 71% of students who are also eligible to receive federally funded free or reduced-price meals.

Teachers, on average have been in the Kentucky educational system approximately 11 years, 8 months, and the average salary based on total years of employment was $52,618. Before you decide whether that figure is high or low, consider what this recent report by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation had to say. According to their report, U.S. teachers earn 60 cents for every dollar earned by other professionals with similar education levels. And that’s the widest teacher-pay gap for any country in the OECD.  It is also money not likely to be recouped after a teacher retires.

Since perception is often seen as reality, it raises at least three legitimate questions you might want to ask of your legislator. 1) How do they see the state of education in Kentucky today? 2) How do they think it got that way? 3) How do they see their proposed actions altering that trend?

Are they aware, for example, that a recent Harvard study ranked Kentucky eighth in student performance improvement in the last two decades? Or, that a “2015 Building a Grad Nation” report called Kentucky “a beacon to all other states” for its ability to all but eliminate the opportunity gap between low income students and all other students to graduate on time? Currently, it’s the lowest in the nation at 1.4%.

Do our legislators know that in another report published by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), Kentucky’s online School Report Card was singled out as one of only eight nationwide that was easy to find, informative and readable, or that the Commission also selected Kentucky and the Kentucky Board of Education as the recipient of its 2015 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation?

In nearly every category, Kentucky teachers, past and present, have made a difference. A 2013-2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report showed Kentucky 4th and 8th graders as continuing to outperform their peers nationally in reading and mathematics. In science, Kentucky students continued to score significantly above the national average. In fact, overall student performance improved, with the percentage of Proficient and Distinguished students increasing in nearly every subject at every grade level on state assessments.

Our high schools also are acknowledged for their improvements. In 2017, Kentucky ranked 17th in a US news and World Report on best ranking of high schools by state. Nearly two-thirds of all graduates (62.3 percent) are now considered ready to take credit-bearing college courses or a postsecondary training program.

Other factors in which we can take pride include a state dropout rate of 1.5%; state attendance rate  of 94.5%; and a statewide graduation rate  of 89.5%. Our achievements also include a successful transition rate​ (percentage of high school graduates attending college, vocational/technical schools, entering the military, employed or a combination of the above) of 93.2%. We also have an educational system that now includes some 110,000 students qualifying for Gifted & Talented services.

These are some of the many ways Kentucky’s teachers and administrators have made a difference in the lives of our children. It’s also just some of the many reasons why we and our state legislators should be thanking both current and former teachers for their service.

Reneging on a long-standing promise to honor the current pension plan is not one of them.

Jeff Rubin is an advocate, adviser, and author on community and aging issues. He has spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at Jeffrubin515@gmail.com.

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