Teacher Pay Penalty Is Getting Worse

Teacher Pay Penalty Is Getting Worse

Last updated on November 17th, 2023

In 2022, public school teachers made 26.4% less than professionals with similar educations, a rate that hasn’t been seen since 1960, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). (Allegretto, Sylvia. “Teacher pay penalty still looms large.” September 29, 2023. https://www.epi.org/publication/teacher-pay-in-2022/#epi-toc-9.)

According to the report, the “pay penalty” has been growing significantly since the mid 90’s, when it was 6.1% and teachers were earning 93.9 cents for every dollar earned by other professionals. To put the financial impact of the pay penalty into perspective, when you compare the average weekly wage of public school teachers and similarly educated professionals, in 2022 teachers earned an average of $1,329 as compared to $2,167 for other college graduates or 73.6 cents for every dollar similarly educated professionals made.

Here’s another way to look at it: teachers earned an average of 73.6 cents for every dollar similarly educated professionals made. New York teachers are better off than teachers in many other states; its pay penalty reached 14.6% in 2022.

Inflation is not helping, resulting in a loss of $128 a week between 2021 and 2022 for teachers (as compared to an estimated loss of $3 for non-teaching professionals).

While many assert the pay penalty is eliminated by teachers’ generous benefit packages, the EPI report shows that’s simply not true. When you look at total compensation – benefits plus pay – the pay penalty drops to 17% for 2022. That is better than 26.4%, but still represents a significant gap with what counterparts in other professions make and as compared to the 2.7% that existed in 1993.

Upon reading this report, I was reminded of discussions during the late 80s about teacher pay. The education sector was advocating to boost teacher pay for two reasons: to attract the best and brightest people into teaching and to ensure they wouldn’t be financially penalized for joining the education sector rather than the corporate world.  The turnaround in the pay penalty achieved by the mid-90’s shows this line of thinking was working. Somewhere in the early 2000s it started losing momentum.

Fast forward. Sandy Hook and numerous other large-scale school shootings occurred, as did Covid. Technology and AI started changing at the speed of light. Politics, government mandates, and changing societal norms have taken on as much priority as teaching academics. All of this has dramatically increased the pressure on educational institutions and teachers. With the geopolitical unrest occurring in the world today, it’s only getting worse.

With a shrinking workforce, due largely to the mass retirement of Baby Boomers, the pay penalty exacerbates the challenge of building a pipeline of teacher talent for the future, while recruiting and retaining teachers today.

According to the report overview, there is a potential path to turn this around involving paying teachers more; providing more federal and state funding to schools; leveraging collective bargaining, and more. Personally, I wonder if there is an opportunity to educate the public about the pay, benefits, social, political, and other challenges teachers face so they are more informed going into budget voting season and discussions.

Undoubtedly, I’m preaching to the choir in writing this article and hope that some of the information garnered in the EPI report can prove useful as you chart the course for the years ahead.

In the words of the report’s author, Sylvia Allegretto, “One of our nation’s highest ideals is the promise to educate every child without regard to means. In many respects, we have always fallen short on that promise. And there are many issues to be addressed around public education and its funding. But one thing is for sure. A world-class public educational system cannot be accomplished without the best and the brightest heading our classrooms. And it cannot be done on the cheap.”

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