The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

March 25, 2013

Kirby Newport, guest columnist: Income tax cut threatens profession of teaching

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Missouri Senate recently passed an income-tax cut (Senate Bill 26) that will potentially cause a $920 million shortfall in state revenues.

Recently, I listened to many respected colleagues and school administrators worry about the larger class sizes and reduced programs that would come with a 34-percent cut in state funding. In my mind, the larger threat is to an already-demoralized teaching profession that sees legislators seeking to privatize public education in the name of “school reform.” Two stories should serve as evidence.

As a history teacher, I spent time in college studying the history of public education. One lecture had a particularly strong effect on me. In it, the guest author outlined what he believed to be anti-public education trends in the United States.

I left the lecture with a dismal view of public education’s future and the understanding that the intent of the federal No Child Left Behind Act was to label most public schools as “failing” by 2014. Clinging to my idealism, I approached the professor and asked: “What advice would you have for a new teacher who believes in public education and wants to work in a public school?” His response: “There will always be a need for good teachers in private schools.”

I defied his pessimism and have worked for six years in an excellent public school. Nevertheless, every year I see examples of the attacks he mentioned in the actions of our state lawmakers.

I now work alongside many of the teachers who inspired me to become an educator. I hold the highest respect for my colleagues and am saddened by their demoralized outlook. All share a love of learning and want what is best for children. They’re simultaneously praised and attacked — parents and students praise, while politicians attack. A letter from one of my colleagues brought this to my attention:

“I am so disheartened today. I have always thought of myself as a good teacher. I receive great feedback from former students and college professors as to how my students are excelling. I have had professors tell me that they can tell their ... students were taught by (me). I’ve been feeling pretty good about my contributions to the field of education and my role as a teacher … until now.

“If I would have known 15 years ago what I know now, I do not think being a teacher would even have been a career choice. Even though Missouri has one of the lowest-paid teaching salaries, I have always been told that Missouri takes good care of their teachers by providing one of the best retirement plans out there.

“Yes, I definitely would be making more money as a chemical engineer or a pharmacist, but I love teaching and I am good at it, and now I just feel that I am being punished for pursuing an area where my talents are needed. It now seems my worth as a teacher might come down to test scores. I do not agree that the status quo is perfect by any means. I am really afraid that as more ‘hoops’ are created to weed out poor teachers, many of the best in the field will also choose to leave the profession. I want to teach. I just want to teach. Let me teach. I’m good at it!”

As a former student, I was saddened to see someone who made a difference in my life question that investment. As a colleague and teacher association president, I feel the same outrage about attacks on my profession through pension changes, budget cuts and standardized tests.

I attend church with Rep. Tom Flanigan, and he assured me he is still deciding on how to vote on this income-tax cut. Sen. Ron Richard has already voted in favor of the education cuts.

Please call your representative and let him know you oppose this bill, before the House debates it this week.

I believe in learning. I believe in your child. I believe in public education. Please reassure me and other teachers that you do, too.

Kirby Newport is a civics teacher at Carthage High School and is the president of the Carthage Education Association. He is also a Carthage city councilman.

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