Some states have approved hefty salary increases for teachers after rough shortages that saw classes led by police officers, the National Guard, and even a governor.
The wage rise for educators is the highest in decades in several jurisdictions, particularly those that are low on the pay scale.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico signed a measure into law on March 1 that, according to her administration, will raise starting salaries for state workers by an average of 20%. Later that month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the state will inject $800 million into the state budget in order to boost the base compensation of teachers to $47,000 per year. And soon later, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi signed off on the highest pay boost for the state’s teachers in decades: an average increase of $5,100 that would lift earnings by more than 10 percent.
Georgia legislators have adopted a budget proposal that will offer its teachers, and other education employees, a $2,000 bonus. And last week, Alabama legislators voted to award its teachers salary rises ranging from 4 percent to almost 21 percent, depending on experience.
According to the Alabama Education Association, this is the largest salary increase for teachers in the state since 1983.
“The No. 1 sentiment has been: It’s about time, and it’s very much appreciated,” Amy Marlowe, the association’s executive director, said. “They also were in disbelief, I think, for about a week. We heard from a large number of teachers who were just contacting us making sure that they heard it correctly, and it wasn’t some kind of joke.”
The wage rises are wonderful news for teachers, and clever moves for politicians. They may encourage instructors to remain there while school labor shortages linger in certain school districts. The hikes might calm instructors over labor issues, with teachers having gone on strike in locations such as Sacramento and Minneapolis. And the midterm elections are just around the way, and education is sure to be a big topic during those elections.
“There are various things a state can do to attract more people to the profession, and keep people in who are already there,” Thomas Bailey, an economist and the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, said.
Dr. Bailey, on the other hand, said that the raises aren’t substantial enough to have much of an impact on teachers’ quality of life.
“It may help, but I don’t know how much this will help,” he remarked. “I don’t think this will solve the problem.”
When adjusted for inflation, the national average compensation for teachers has only modestly grown over the previous decade, according to the National Education Association, the nation’s biggest teachers’ organization.
However, other economists feel that these rises should be given to teachers who are particularly difficult to replace because of the high demand.
For Suzanne Smith, a math and social studies teacher in Grenada, Miss., the $5,100 pay raise has not set in yet – it is the highest one she has seen in the more than three decades she has worked in this area. The average income for a Mississippi educator is $46,843, according to the National Education Association, the lowest in the country.
“We’re never going to think we’re paid enough because we always think we deserve more than we get,” she remarked.
Teachers in Ms. Smith’s area, she said, had taken on several occupations to augment their salaries for the duration of their careers. She has worked at a day care facility, motels and a sports goods shop.
Only a small percentage of teachers in Mississippi can live solely on their pay, she continues.
For Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, another trade union, boosting teacher compensation seems vindicating for groups who have been pushing for this for years.
“Let me just say this: It’s never too late,” she said, adding, “People don’t go into teaching to become rich, but they should be able to raise their kids on a decent salary.”
N.M. primary school teacher and union leader Jennifer Trujillo believes that more than a quarter of her colleagues work a second job in the district. Some are bartenders, work on golf courses or moonlight as private teachers.
She talked to one teacher this week whose second job meant a cumulative 12-hour shift.
Ms. Trujillo said her coworkers were “extremely, very delighted” when they discovered that state teachers would get an average pay raise of 20%. “They have remarked it’s about time, finally. It’s being said that folks may now give up their second job.
But experts caution that the bonuses and wage rises are a short-term response to fundamental concerns that governments have not addressed.
State budget surpluses from extra pandemic assistance relief and tax income coincide with the salary increases.
Economists in Florida expect an additional $4 billion in state revenue only from taxation. In Idaho, where Gov. Brad Little has backed $1,000 bonuses and up to 10 percent pay hikes for teachers, analysts projected to see an additional $1.6 billion by the conclusion of the fiscal year, in June.
Thomas S. Dee, an economist and professor at Stanford University, said states could have used this money to target high-performing teachers, or those in fields, such as special education and the sciences, that are typically hard to fill.
For him, paying teachers extra was a “good idea” in light of inflation and the hardships they’ve seen in recent years. “But I definitely see a squandered opportunity in terms of elevating the teaching profession and boosting teacher effectiveness.”
Using the Washington, DC, school system as an example, Dr. Dee argues that by rewarding high-performing teachers with pay hikes and letting go of those who failed to achieve requirements, the district reduced teacher turnover. In a recent examination of this curriculum, Dr. Dee claimed the approach improved pupils with their performance.
According to Dr. Dee, this is the opposite of what most of these participating states are now doing, where every teacher receives a wage boost regardless of their effort.
“It’s not targeted where turnover, and shortages, are most widespread, and have their most negative effects,” he added.
Ms. Smith, the Mississippi teacher, is not sure what she wants to do with her $5,100 wage rise, but she has a few ideas. She may purchase a new automobile with the money she saves since hers is sputtering. And there is always the possibility of pampering her grandkids.
Because of the pandemic’s conclusion, she believes the donation has more significance today. “I think it means more now,” she says. “This is that little extra boost. That’s our pat on the back to go on, and keep pushing forward. Because the past couple years have been really difficult.”
The article is paraphrased from the following: In Several States, Teachers Get Their Biggest Raise in Decades, Giulia Heyward, April 14, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/14/us/teacher-salary-pay-raise.html