Teachers’ pay falls behind wages of comparable workers

The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever and a growing demand for competent educators has one New Jersey Democrat thinking about an update on an old policy.

In The teacher pay gap is wider than ever, a study published last year, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) President Lawrence Mishel and UC Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto found that teacher’s wages and compensation continue to fall compared to similar workers.

In 2015, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 17.0 percent lower than those of comparable workers — compared with just 1.8 percent lower in 1994 — and this erosion of relative teacher wages has had an adverse impact in our classrooms.

“While collective bargaining can help abate the teacher wage penalty, a better solution might be a mandatory minimum salary like the one enacted by former Gov. Thomas H. Kean in the 1980s,” said Lisa McCormick, a Democratic activist who says full time teachers should be paid at least $60,000 a year.

In 1987, Kean signed into law New Jersey’s first minimum teachers salary at $18,500 but a decade later, the law was meaningless, as most districts had a starting salary of least $30,000 and by 2010, more than 140 districts started first-year teachers with a B.A. at $50,000 or more.

“An effective teacher is among the most important factors in education, so it is crucial that school , districts recruit and retain high-quality teachers,” said McCormick, who said the .

This is particularly difficult at a time when the supply of teachers is constrained by high turnover rates, annual retirements of longtime educators, and a decline in students opting for a teaching career — and when demand for teachers is rising due to rigorous national student performance standards and mandates to shrink class sizes.

In light of these challenges, providing adequate wages and benefits is a crucial tool for attracting and keeping the teachers America’s children need.

“In order to recruit and retain talented teachers, school districts should be paying them more than their peers,” said Mishel. “Instead, teachers face low wages, high levels of student debt, and increasing demands on the job. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need.”

“Once again, unions prove their importance in protecting teachers from a much larger pay gap,” said Allegretto. “For women, especially, being a member of a teacher’s union can have a major impact on earnings.”

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