The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pay for veteran teachers ‘painfully low’ in states like Colorado, where truckers earn more — new report

Money and more money. <br/> (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A new report on teacher pay finds that base salaries in some states are so “painfully low” for mid- and late-career teachers that truckers and sheet-metal workers earn more.

The report by the nonprofit Center for American Progress, titled “Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle With Paltry Incomes,” says that many veteran teachers must work a second job to earn enough money to meet their basic needs.

How low are the base salaries for veteran teachers? According to the report:

  • In  Colorado, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience make less than a trucker in the state.
  • In Oklahoma, teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree make less than sheet metal workers.
  • In Georgia, teachers with 10 years of experience and a graduate degree make less than a flight attendant in the state.

Furthermore, the report says:

  • Teachers with 10 years of experience who are family breadwinners often qualify for a number of federally funded benefit programs designed for  families needing financial support. We found that mid-career teachers who head families of four or more in multiple states such as Arizona and North Dakota qualify for several benefit programs, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the School Breakfast and Lunch Program. What’s more, teachers have fewer opportunities to grow their salaries compared to other professions.
  • To supplement their minimal salaries, large percentages of teachers work second jobs. We found that in 11 states, more than 20 percent of teachers rely on the financial support of a second job, and in some states such Maine, that number is as high as 25 percent. In these 11 states, the average base salary for a teacher with 10 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree is merely $39,6738—less than a carpenter’s national average salary. (Note that teachers typically have summers off, and the data on teachers who work second jobs do not include any income that a teacher may have earned over the summer.)
    The bottom line is that mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence.

The report says that there is “good news” in places such as the District of Columbia, where Michelle Rhee’s IMPACT evaluation system has raised teachers salaries based on “performance,” although it doesn’t note that the “performance” is largely student standardized test scores, which assessment experts say is an unreliable and unfair way to judge teachers for high-stakes decisions such as salary.

Here is state-by-state data on teacher salaries from the report, which relied on “base teacher” salaries which typically does not include summer jobs or other forms of additional income:

Comparison with other countries puts the United States is a less than satisfactory light, as this shows: