"It seems like just yesterday that teachers, administrators and other educators were being hailed as essential workers and modern-day heroes for pressing on during the pandemic to protect the health and safety of students and to provide them with educational programs in person and on-line.
For many teachers, the challenge of simultaneously managing both physical and remote classrooms was stressful and exhausting. To make matters worse, teachers were placed squarely in the middle of conflicts not of their making, from mask mandates, to vaccination efforts, to culture wars. The environment got so toxic that some teachers, and even school board members, were intimidated if not threatened simply for trying to do their jobs.
Nevertheless, schools held together and in no small way helped to get our state and nation back on track.
We are in a better time now. The pandemic has eased. Utah continues to grow. The state economy is robust and the state has a significant surplus of money to address many priorities that have been neglected or short changed. Teacher compensation should be at the top of the list. However, salary increases should not be contingent on support for a school voucher program which appears to be the deal the governor and the Legislature want teachers to accept.
There simply is no scenario in which this is the right thing to do, nor is this political drama appropriate given Utah’s persistently low per-pupil funding, and the fact that many teachers are simply giving up and leaving the profession.
Utah faces many challenges, which are, in reality, opportunities. No opportunity is more important than providing a high-quality education for every child in this state. The Utah Constitution requires it, and our future depends on it. At the heart of this opportunity is our obligation to adequately support teachers who are key to ensuring that future.
Likely, there is not one of us who has not had their lives improved by the work and example of a teacher. In my case I can name a dozen. As Horace Mann once said: “Teaching is the most difficult of all arts, and profoundest of all sciences.” Therefore, teacher pay is essential to recruiting, recognizing and retaining the best teachers our children deserve.
Perhaps my position is simply naïve. Legislating is a rough and tumble business. There must be give and take, and compromises must be made among many competing priorities. Yet teacher pay should not be bargained as if it were just another transaction. Moreover, teachers should not be made pawns in a high-stakes political fight that they did not start. Our teachers have earned better salaries and they deserve the respect that a major increase would represent.
I appeal to the governor and the Legislature to call on “the better angels of our nature.” Pay the teachers what has been promised for years and let the voucher bill stand or fall on its own merits."
Richard E. Kendell, Ph.D., is a retired English teacher and school superintendent, former deputy to Govs. Olene Walker and Mike Leavitt and Olene Walker and former commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education.