Elevating the Teaching Profession With Data-Driven Salary Increases


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This guest post comes from Ellen Sherratt, president of the board at Teacher Salary Project and Lisa LachlanHaché, director of the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research. All views in guest posts are those of the author.

As students begin to head back to school, many classrooms in under-resourced schools will have teaching vacancies, which are sometimes explained by compensation concerns. 

The data are sobering. Teachers continue to make less than other college graduates, with reports of a staggering 23.5% difference in average weekly wages in 2021. Forty-five percent of teachers reported that their salary was not sufficient to keep them in the classroom for the medium to long term; 68% reported that their salary was either not sufficient or they were not sure whether it would be sufficient to prevent them from finding new careers. In 42 states, a 10-year veteran teacher who heads a household of four is eligible for public benefits programs.  

 Meanwhile, national data show evidence of significant teacher shortages in all subject areas at the start of the 2022-23 school year and more than 36,000 teacher vacancies unfilled in 2022-23.  

 Now is an opportune time for state policymakers to consider how to avert teacher shortages by raising teacher pay.  

 Recognizing the concerns over teacher salaries and the likely related impacts on shortages, strong bipartisan momentum has been generated. Nineteen state legislatures and 26 state governors have announced teacher salary bills or initiatives in 2023 to date.  

 A new report Raising the Bar on Teacher Pay, from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders and Teacher Salary Project, outlines teacher salary bills and initiatives and provides state policymakers with a summary of recent research and salary commitments made by 26 governors. It also includes steps to make data-driven decisions that result in more competitive teacher salaries. 

For example, governors have recently made the following teacher salary commitments:   

  • In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb introduced higher teacher salaries, alongside a commitment to raise the average teacher starting salary from $40,000 to at least $60,000 per year. 
  • New Mexico has raised teacher salaries by 35% since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in 2019.  
  • In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox introduced a $6,000 increase ($4,200 in salary and $1,800 in benefits) for all teachers, which is the largest teacher pay increase in the state’s history. 
  • In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice committed to raising teacher salaries through his 2024 fiscal year budget and raised salaries by 5% — the largest increase in state history.  

At the national level, in January 2023, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced the Raise the Bar: Lead the World Initiative, which commits to paying teachers on par with similarly educated professionals in their states. In a recent policy brief, the U.S. Department of Education elaborated on its priorities and offered aligned considerations for policymakers. 

The report addresses Cardona’s statement by outlining three ways to define a competitive teacher salary and presents state-by-state data on teachers’ salaries and how it compares to other workers’ pay. It also includes a minimum living wage in the labor market for individuals with and without a family. These data show that in every state the minimum salary required to raise a family is more than double what a beginning teacher earns and is far above the average annual teacher salary. 

State legislators can build on the teacher salary momentum by making an actionable commitment that will show prospective and returning teachers that they are committing to a sustainable and supportive profession.  

States can address teacher shortages by offering a competitive salary that supports the longevity of the profession for years to come. 

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