- Teachers' weekly wages and total compensation have worsened over time compared to non-teacher, college-educated professionals, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
- Average weekly wages of public school teachers increased just $29 from 1996 to 2021, from $1,319 to $1,348 when adjusted only for inflation. In comparison, weekly wages of other college graduates rose by $445, going from $1,564 to $2,009 during the same period.
- This "teacher pay penalty" discourages college students from teaching careers and makes it challenging for school districts to retain teachers, the EPI report said.
"Trends in teacher pay coupled with pandemic challenges may exacerbate annual shortages of regular and substitute teachers," the report said.
Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the analysis focuses on weekly wages to avoid comparisons of weekly hours worked or length of work year, as many teachers aren't leading classrooms over the summer months.
On average, teachers earned just 76.5 cents on the dollar in 2021 compared with what similar college-educated professionals earned.
Researchers also examined teacher wage penalties by state, finding Colorado had the largest wage gap at -35.9% and Rhode Island with the smallest gap at -3.45%. No state had parity in wages between teachers and non-teachers.
Compared to non-teachers, teachers have a higher share of compensation in benefits, such as retirement plans and health benefits, which helps to partially offset some of the weekly wage penalties teachers face, the report said.
When researchers compared wages further back in time, data shows the average teacher weekly wages in 1979, adjusted only for inflation, were $1,052, which was slightly below other college graduates at $1,364, or a $312 difference. But by 2021, the average weekly wage gap between teachers and non-teachers grew to $661.
As schools experience staffing shortages that have seen central office staff lead classrooms and rely on substitutes as temporary teachers, several districts have ramped up recruitment and retainment efforts.
Arizona, for example, is allowing teachers without a bachelor's degree to lead classrooms while they work toward their higher education degrees. Florida is not requiring bachelor's degrees for military personnel and veterans who want to teach as long as they meet certain conditions. And in January, Tennessee became the first state to have a permanent registered teacher apprenticeship program approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Many other districts are dedicating federal COVID-19 emergency funding or annual district appropriations for salary increases in hopes of enticing staff to stay and new hires to join.
Some examples, as collected by data services firm Burbio, include:
- Gallup-McKinley County Schools in New Mexico. New hires are eligible for a signing incentive of between $18,000 and $22,000, plus relocation expenses of $2,500 to $4,500.
- Newport News Public Schools in Virginia. This district in southeast Virginia is offering signing bonuses of $6,000 for teachers with provisional or full licenses in certain high-need fields such as secondary level math and special education. *
- Spring Independent School District in Texas. The School Board there has approved an employee retention package for the 2022-23 school year of $2,000 plus two additional wellness days.
“As a Board, we recognize the hardships brought on by the pandemic and the need to provide our teachers and staff with much-needed economic relief in the midst of very challenging times,” said Board of Trustees President Justine Durant, in a statement.