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Healthcare Costs Are Responsible for Low Teacher Salaries

All over the country, teachers have been protesting due to inadequate pay. And all over the country, candidates for office—those running for governor, in particular—have been promising salary increases for teachers. Don’t believe them. Most politicians will tell teachers whatever they want to hear in order to win their vote.

Now don’t get me wrong, many candidates are sincere—sort of. What I mean by that is that they’d like to see teachers paid better and they will advocate for them, but it’s not up to governors to honor such promises. In the end, it’s up to legislators and voters. Pay raises for teachers, after all, have to be paid for with taxes.

If we really want to pay teachers more on an ongoing basis, we have to solve the root cause of the problem. If we don’t, teachers are going to be protesting the inaction of feckless politicians again next year. And even if teachers win raises, we’ll be having this discussion again just a few years later as the root cause of the problem will not have been solved.

The problem is not that we don’t value our teachers. I certainly do. Most people I know do. The root cause is the incredible transfer of well over $1 trillion a year to the healthcare industry. It’s a wealth transfer unprecedented in history and it happens every year. One trillion dollars is the low end for estimates of waste and excessive profiteering by monopolistic hospitals, insurance carriers, and pharmaceutical companies. One trillion dollars is also how much we spend on K-12 public school education. Imagine that.

And it’s not just teachers who are affected. State and local government treasuries are being drained by healthcare expenses at an alarming rate, affecting firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, transportation departments, and just about every other public service we depend on.

While state and local government employees are experiencing a sharp decline in the value of their healthcare benefits due to higher premiums, copays, deductibles, and the obscenely high prices they pay for medical care, the value of health insurance industry stocks has risen five-fold over the past ten years. Hospitals are also making good money. According to a 2018 report to Congress, hospital profit margins are at a thirty-year high.

Believe me, if all we do is raise teachers’ salaries, the healthcare industry will find a way to take it away from them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it—teachers deserve a raise—but we cannot ignore the broader problem. If we do, all we’re doing is kicking the can down the road.

When teachers complain about their healthcare benefits, they’re addressing only a tiny part of the problem. The bigger impact is the cost of providing healthcare benefits to all of the other local and state workers. As healthcare costs rise, spending on other services—including education—must necessarily fall. That includes teachers’ salaries. In half of Colorado’s schools, kids are only getting four days of education a week because of budget cuts, and the graduation requirements are so light that many can easily graduate in three or three and a half years. It’s ultimately the kids who are suffering.

The great transfer of wealth from the private sector and local government to the healthcare industry is the ultimate cause of low teacher salaries. I hope teachers will join me in solving this problem. We can do it—for Colorado and for the whole country—by ensuring that Colorado Initiative #146 makes it to the ballot in November. The Colorado ballot measure is the first of its kind in the nation, requiring complete price transparency and thus ensuring competitive prices that will drive down costs and protect us from the price gouging that goes on every day.

It’s an arduous process to get a law on the ballot in Colorado. It takes ten times as many signatures as getting on the ballot to run for governor. If every teacher across America will donate $5 for each of their family members, we will get it done. When we do, transparent pricing and competition will follow. And that is the key to freeing up the money to pay teachers better. We’ve raised $158,725 over the past three weeks. We need another $41,175 to hit our requirement of $200,000 for the month to keep our signature collectors out there. Please consider making a small donation to help us get there. We’re doing this for every American—and most importantly, for our children.