Dr. Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Berkeley, says teachers in many states across the nation are seeing a reduction in constant pay (pay adjusted for the cost of living in each state), which has declined as much as 15.72% in some states since 2000 while rising as much as 20.59% in others, Ed Surge reports.
Allegretto also points to what she calls the “teacher pay gap” — while the average educator pay has declined about $30 a week in real terms since 2000, pay for college graduates in other professions has increased about $124 a week, she says.
While teachers in unionized states generally fare better, they are not protected from decreases in pay, especially since more states now have right-to-work laws, which allow employees to decide on union support and laws that prohibit collective bargaining strategies such as striking.
Teacher pay is a hot button issue in many states, especially in the face of a shortage of teachers in many areas. States need to be competitive if they are to attract teachers, and even within states, school districts often have to offer higher local supplements to keep teachers from crossing the border into a higher-paying district. Most government agencies conduct periodic pay studies to make sure their employee salaries are competitive so that they are attracting and retaining the best candidates. Teachers deserve the same treatment.
However, teacher pay is not the only issue that affects recruitment and retention efforts. For some states, underfunded pension plans or health care plans are causing anxiety as teachers fear funds will not be available when they need them. The demand for a pension overhaul was the major factor in the recent Kentucky protest.
In a recent interview, North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican, pointed to the importance this issue has on education: “Bill Gates and Warren Buffet seven years ago said the single biggest threat to public education over the next two decades is how states account and pay for the unfunded pension and health care liabilities. This is already happening in other states. If we don’t fix this, it’s going to suck all the money out of the state budget for the next 20 years.”
However, pay is not the only issue that affects teacher recruitment and retention. Pay is also comparatively decreasing for most college graduates. What has a bigger impact, some studies suggest, is the stress, poor working conditions, paperwork and testing pressures many teachers face. School leaders and lawmakers also need to look at ways to address these issues.