Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Teachers’ pay continues to slide

A recent press release from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is titled “Teachers’ pay continues to slide” – which would seem to say it all, but there is more to the story.

While legislators are debating an additional 1% increase in teachers’ salaries in this year’s state budget, EPI’s report reveals a large and growing gap between K-12 educators’ salaries and those with a similar education in other fields.

In Washington State for example, teachers with a BA earn 74.1% of the weekly wages of other college graduates – in effect, a 25.9% wage penalty for choosing to be a teacher.

That problem isn’t unique to K-12 schools, either. EOI’s own research has revealed another growing gap: Parents are paying more – in some cases, a lot more – for childcare, but increased fees aren’t translating into higher wages for those teachers.

For example, in Seattle and King County, childcare fees for toddlers and pre-kindergarteners increased 48% and 47% respectively, but wages for childcare teachers went up only 23% from 1994 to 2006.

The corresponding increases for areas of Washington (fees for toddlers, fees for pre-kindergarteners, wages for early childhood educators):

  • Port Angeles, Aberdeen, Vancouver: Fees up 23% and 32%, wages up 10%
  • Skagit, Snohomish: Fees up 36% and 35%, wages up 21%
  • Kitsap, Pierce:Fees up 33% and 35%, wages up 20%
  • Wenatchee, Spokane: Fees up 23% and 32%, wages up 10%
  • Walla Walla, Tri-Cities, Yakima: Fees up 48% and 38%, wages up 19%

By comparison, fees went up 34% and wages increased only 19% statewide (according to an EOI analysis of new data released from the Washington State Department of Early Learning).

Worth mentioning here that the state’s Early Childhood Education Career and Wage Ladder is a proven way to close that gap (and improve early childhood education at the same time).

But despite strong interest in the Ladder from child care centers across the state, limited state funding means only 75 childcare centers are enrolled. The Department of Early Learning has to use a random draw to select new centers to participate.

With one-third of our public school teachers eligible to retire between 2004-2009, Washington needs to recruit and retain more high-caliber educators who will help our children learn and grow from their early years through high school and beyond.

We’re going to face real problems cultivating a workforce ready for the 21st century economy unless we start paying wages that make education a financially attractive profession.

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