A Solution for Ron DeSantis in the Public School Mask Debate
For those following the news, Florida has become the most prevalent battleground in the fight between public health officials and personal choice advocates. As several school districts have implemented mask mandates to limit risk for school children, Ron DeSantis and the governor's office have pushed back, noting "that fairest thing to do is just say let parents make the decisions." Furthermore, the office has threatened the salaries of teachers and administrators as a way to compel them to lift mandates and return choice to the parents regarding the health of their children. There is a lot to unpack here, but there appears to be a pattern to the responses of adminstrators in school districts considering the implementation of a mask mandate. In the words of Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna, "You can't put a price tag on someone's life, including my salary."
The pushback from teachers, superintendents, and worried parents should not be surprising to DeSantis' office, though. Why? Opportunity cost, of course! For the uninitiated, we often give a simple definition for opportunity cost in principles courses: what someone must give up when they make a choice. So, what are teachers giving up by standing up to DeSantis? In the state of Florida, preschool teachers make a whopping $29,800 dollars, on average, per year (Source: BLS Occupational Wage Data for Florida). Elementary, middle, and high school teachers fare a little better and make about $57,000, $59,000, and $61,000, respectively. These are hardly earth shattering figures for a group of individuals being asked to work in conditions they may not be comfortable with. As Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, puts it: "At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees." In other words, school systems are happy to give up their salary if it means the health and safety of th children in their schools.
The solution then becomes clear. If Ron DeSantis really wanted to prevent school systems from imposing mask mandates, he would pay educators much more. Upping teacher and administrator salaries to, say, $150,000 per year would increase the opportunity cost of the choice to forgo salaries. Add in that teachers are notoriously underpaid (the Economic Policy Institute estimated in 2020 by as much as 20% in Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019) and there should be even more of a reason to raise teacher salaries. These estimates pre-date the inherent risks associated with contracting COVID-19, so it stands to reason that salary increases should be much higher in order to create the desired incentive of DeSantis' office. Mr. DeSantis should take a play from the Principles of Microeconomics playbook and leverage opportunity cost in his favor.
Allegretto, S. and Mishel, L. Economic Policy Institute. Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019. Retrieved August 11, 2021 from https://www.epi.org/publication/teacher-pay-penalty-dips-but-persists-in-2019-public-school-teachers-earn-about-20-less-in-weekly-wages-than-nonteacher-college-graduates/.
Frohlich, T. USA Today. Yes, teachers are underpaid. Here's how much high school teachers are underpaid in each state. Retrieved August 11, 2021 from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/09/29/states-with-the-most-underpaid-teachers/42699495/.
Hernandez, J. and Shivaram, D. NPR. Some Florida School Districts Will Require Masks. The Governor May Cut Their Funding. Retrieved August 11, 2021 from https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/08/06/1025192746/some-florida-school-districts-will-require-masks-the-governor-may-cut-their-fund.
Reiss, R. and Almasy St. CNN. Florida governor's office says state could withhold salaries of officials who enact school mask mandates. Retrieved August 11, 2021 from https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/09/us/florida-desantis-school-mask-mandates/index.html.
Yilek, C. CBS. Florida school board to require face masks despite ban. Retrieved August 11, 2021 from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-schools-face-mask-requirement-desantis-ban-covid-19/.