16 May 2023
Leaders of U.S. states are pushing for pay increases and other rewards as schools across the country try to employ more teachers.
Groups that follow teacher pay say that more than half of the states' governors have proposed increasing teacher pay. The nonprofit Teacher Salary Project said these proposals represent the highest numbers it has seen in nearly twenty years of following the issue.
"Today we have governors left and right from every political party and then some who are addressing this issue because they have to," said the nonprofit group's head, Nínive Caligari. "We've never seen what we are seeing right now," she said.
In Idaho, Governor Brad Little is aiming to raise the state's average starting pay into the nation's top 10. In Delaware, Governor John Carney said competition for teachers is stronger than ever and a pay increase is necessary to "win the competition with surrounding states."
However, it is not clear how far pay raises will go toward reducing teacher shortages. Some teachers say such offers come too late to fix problems that have been developing for years.
Problems with teachers' pay
Some possible reasons for teacher shortages include limited budgets after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and low enrollment numbers in colleges and programs that train teachers.
Data from several states has shown rising numbers of teachers leaving the profession over the past few years.
Researchers say the teacher shortages are most severe in poor and rural areas. Schools also report difficulties in hiring teachers for subjects like special education, math and science.
Teachers report growing workloads, shrinking independence or autonomy, and increasingly hostile school environments.
Meanwhile, teacher pay has fallen behind that of college-educated people in other fields.
The Economic Policy Institute, a research group, said the difference between teacher pay and pay for college-educated people in other professions reached a record 23.5 percent in 2021.
Magan Daniel, who at 33 just left her central Alabama school, was not persuaded to stay by pay raises. It would take big increases to match neighboring Georgia, where the average teacher salary is $62,200. That number comes from the National Education Association, or NEA, the nation's largest teachers union.
Fixing teachers' work culture and growing workloads would be a more powerful reason to stay than a pay raise, Daniel said.
The NEA said the average pay for public school teachers in America increased two percent during the 2021-2022 school year. Average yearly pay was $66,745 last year. However, inflation was around 9 percent at the time.
Sylvia Allegretto of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, called pay promises by governors one-time "Band-Aids" that barely keep up with inflation.
Allegretto said of these changes, "You're not fixing the problem, generally."
Research shows a pay raise will have at least some effect on keeping teachers, said Ed Fuller of Pennsylvania State University. What is difficult to research, Fuller said, is the effect a raise has on a college student's decision to enter a teacher preparation program — and take on debt.
In Pennsylvania, the William Penn School District is offering signing payments or bonuses for long-term substitute teachers. The school is also holding its first-ever job fair for teachers.
Superintendent Eric Becoats said a teacher told him moving to a neighboring district would result in $10,000 more in pay. That is something the relatively small and poor district cannot compete with right now.
Some teachers also tell him they will retire or leave the profession if they can.
Joshua Morgan, who left his teaching job in Oklahoma last year, said a major change in pay is required to overcome how teachers now think about their jobs. Once they expected to stay at a school until they retired.
"That's not how the world works anymore," Morgan said. "I'm seeing more educators, especially the younger ones, coming in and saying, ‘I'm not willing to put up with this.'"
I'm John Russell.
Marc Levy reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
governor – n. a person who is the leader of the government of a state
enrollment – n. the act of becoming a member or participant
Band-Aid – n. a small bandage; able to help or improve something only for a short period of time
substitute – n. a teacher who teaches a class when the usual teacher is not available
superintendent – n. a person who directs or manages a number of schools
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