U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan

The U.S. Education Secretary talked about tough budget times — while also suggesting that the best teachers should be paid six-figure salaries — during a question and answer period today at the governor’s education summit.

Secretary Arne Duncan was asked about future education spending and said the tough economic times are not going to turn around overnight.

He says the “honest conversation” we need to have is around the “new normal of tough budget times” and how to use limited resources. Duncan says the one thing he tells states is to stay away from across the board budget cuts, because that tells him they have no idea which of their resources are making a difference.

Duncan says states need to selectively adjust their budgets to make the most of the money available. He says in tough economic times there are certain things you should eliminate or stop doing, and other things you should “double down” on and increase the funding. Duncan says people in education are good at starting new things, but are less good at stopping certain things.

Duncan was asked about paying teachers in the tough times. He says the country faces a big challenge ahead. Duncan says with the “Baby Boomer” generation moving toward retirement, the country is going to need around one-million new teachers in the next four to six years. He says we need to think alot about how to bring in new talent, as he says the teachers hired are going to shape public education for the next 30 years.

“So it’s an amazing opportunity, and we have to get this right,” Duncan said. Duncan says teacher don’t go into the profession looking to make a million dollars, but he suggested they could make hundreds of thousands.

“Teachers are the most altruistic,the most thoughtful, and the most selfless people I know, but at the same time you shouldn’t have to wait 30 or 40 years to make a decent living, you shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty to enter the profession,” Duncan said, “and if we raise starting salaries very significantly, if great teachers could make 120, 140, $150,000 dollars much earlier in their career, I think that would be a big step in the right direction for attracting and retaining talent.”

Duncan says there would have to be some adjustments to pay teachers more money. He says it will take some tradeoffs and they have to find resources at the federal and state level. For teachers he says it would mean a lot more autonomy, less punching the clock with more hours and days, but he says it is the right thing to get in the best teachers.

“If a great teacher at 29, 30, 31, can make 110, $115,000, I think it’s gonna really change our ability to attract and retain that talent,” Duncan said. Duncan was the keynote speaker at the event, which will wrap up tomorrow. Governor Branstad says the summit will help the state as it looks to improve its education system.