27 August, 2019
Summer break is ending across the United States as students and teachers return to schools.
At U.S. public schools, the amount of money teachers are paid often depends on the state and, sometimes, the school district in which they teach.
First-grade teacher Hillary Madrigal used to clean houses as a second job because her teachers' pay was so low. After moving to a new school district where she is paid more, she can buy a car and no longer works as a housekeeper.
"I have a college degree," Madrigal told The Associated Press. "I felt I could make a difference in people's lives as a teacher, but to pay my bills ... I had to do people's laundry." She now works for the Salt Lake City School District in Utah.
The recent national teacher protest movement has persuaded many teachers to demand higher pay and better working conditions in public schools. A shortage of teachers means that many school districts have been forced to deal with the money issue quickly.
The National Education Association estimates that the average public school teacher received a 2% pay raise over the past two years. That is when the national ‘Red4Ed' protest movement began spreading across the country. It involves teachers, students, parents and community members all pushing for better school conditions and pay for educators.
In fact, a new study found that nationwide support for teacher pay increases "is now higher than any point since 2008." The findings appeared in the publication Education Next.
The new poll found that among those told current teachers' wages in their state, "56 percent say teacher salaries should rise." That represents "a 20 percentage-point increase over the approval level from just two years ago."
The number for those expressing support for a pay raise was even higher—72 percent—among people who did not know what teachers make now.
Strong demand for teachers
U.S. school systems have advertised more than 100,000 teaching positions over the past four years, notes Elaine Weiss of the Economic Policy Institute. She said that many school budgets had been slow to recover from the last recession. And, a stronger economy today means people who may have worked as teachers are choosing better paying jobs.
This has made the teacher shortage worse, Weiss said, and "put more pressure on states."
Utah, where Madrigal works, has been dealing with a teacher shortage for at least 10 years. Envision Utah, a nonprofit planning agency, says the shortage is expected to get worse as the number of students increases. This means that many school systems compete with each other to find, and keep, teachers in their classrooms.
Outside Sandy, Utah, the Canyons School District started a "salary war" in April when it raised the starting salary for teachers to $50,000.
At least three other school districts quickly followed, offering 4 percent to 16 percent pay increases or offered the higher starting salary.
Salt Lake District is one of the largest school systems in Utah. It recently increased the starting salary for teachers to almost $47,000.
In Texas, the state legislature approved billions of dollars for teacher pay raises. It is not yet known how this will affect individual schools.
If teachers only accept the highest paying jobs, it might make the differences among the school systems even worse.
Problems for rural districts
This is already true for the rural Ellensburg School District in the state of Washington. A labor union representing teachers launched protests there during contract talks this past summer.
Donna Grassel, the union's president, said comparable school systems pay up to 25 percent more than Ellensburg. She said the difference has become much greater since a court ordered Washington to give more money to its public schools.
State lawmakers are looking at financial models that schools have long depended on, like local taxes, which can be less in rural areas than in wealthy cities. The rural school system then has to compete with nearby districts offering teachers more money. But Ellensburg district officials gave their teachers big raises last year. They said that shows they are trying to make wages more competitive, even with their spending limits.
I'm Anne Ball.
Anne Ball adapted this story, from the Associated Press. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
district – n. an area established by a government for official government business
degree – n. an official document and title that is given to someone who has successfully completed a series of classes at a college or university
laundry – n. clothes, towels, sheets, etc., that need to be washed or that have been washed
contract – n. clothes, towels, sheets, etc., that need to be washed or that have been washed