Opinion: Goodbye summer vacation, hello higher taxes

For the victims of the American public school system, summer vacation is near. In South Carolina, most schools end their academic year in early June, usually capping the year off with a pointless exercise in standardized testing. But considering the recent teacher strikes and how American school children are falling behind their international counterparts, should we reconsider the annual tradition of summer vacation and go to a year-round school schedule?

Teacher strikes in states like West Virginia and Arizona captured headlines just a few weeks ago with educators demanding pay raises and more funding for their classrooms. While some states did respond immediately to the protests, the problem of the meager pay for educators remains largely unsolved. 

Teachers in the United States are paid 60 percent less than similarly educated workers and have faced an inflation  — driven pay cut of 1.6 percent. South Carolina is facing an exodus of teachers leaving the state due to low pay and excessive workloads caused by an already-existing shortage of educators. In ten years, South Carolina is projected to be 6,000 teachers short. 

So how do we keep the few educators we have left and entice young people to become teachers?

The most obvious answer is to raise taxes and pay teachers more. Why would anyone want to work in a field that is more demanding than a basic office job and pays less, even with a pension? However, being in a red state, raising taxes is just not an option for politicians who are never far off from the next election, so solutions need to be more creative and supported by both sides of the aisle. The first thing to do is eliminate summer vacation.

Summer vacation as an institution goes back to time in American history when air conditioning was decades away. Summers made urban learning centers more akin to ovens, so legislators behind compulsory education gave students the months off, contrary to the popular myth that students needed to help their parents on the farm.

Summer is also the hardest time for teachers. Imagine being laid off for months at a time every year and being expected to still support yourself and your family. It is also not guaranteed that all of the months off during the summer are not spent working, as teachers are more often required to work on lesson plans during off time. 

I think getting rid of summer vacation is exactly what the United States needs. Year-round school includes the same number of days per year, but the long summer break is broken up into smaller breaks throughout the year. That means less information lost over the summer, year-round pay for teachers and less boredom for the students.

To be fair, even if teachers get paid all year, their pay is still too little. The average salary for a teacher in South Carolina is a little above $48,000, which ranks our state as 39th in the country. Some detractors of giving higher pay to teachers cite the fact they (on paper) only work 180 days out of the year. These same people seem to forget that the teachers do not decide when school is in session and therefore should not be punished as though they do. 

And yes, an increase in teacher pay means higher taxes. However, schools have needed more funding for years, and an increase in taxes only reflects the inevitable. Some taxpayers may not be comfortable with increased taxes for schools, but how can anyone deny that free public education is an asset for our community? Every worker represents a citizen who learned to read and do math at a heavily subsidized price.

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