A new study shows that teachers face a significant wage penalty compared to other college-educated professionals in almost every state.
Washington is second-worst, trailing only Arizona, with teachers making 31.6 percent less than similarly educated professionals.
Meanwhile, school districts across the state are scrambling to find enough teachers to staff their classrooms, and the Legislature is in the final throes of deciding on a budget for the next two academic years. Every option considered is likely to leave schools and services on which students and families depend significantly underfunded without major new sources of revenue.
The analysis of multiple data sets by economists at the Economic Policy Institute and the Institute for Research on Labor Employment of UC Berkeley controlled for education, age, region, gender, race and other factors that can impact wages.
Teachers often receive a better benefit package than other similarly educated professionals, but not enough to make up for the serious wage gap. In 2018, teachers nationally had an 8.4 percent advantage in benefits and a 21.4 percent wage penalty, for a total compensation penalty of 13.1 percent.
The “teacher wage penalty” for men goes back many decades. Women college graduates, on the other hand, could make more as teachers than in most other occupations until the late 1990s. That meant the brightest and best women often turned to teaching.
As other opportunities opened for women, teaching lost its advantage. By 1997, women teachers made about the same as other comparably educated women, while wages for male teachers were 20 percent less than those men would have made in another line of work. By 2018, the teacher wage penalty reached 15 percent for women and 31.5 percent for men.
In 2000, the average weekly wage for public school teachers nationally was $1,220 adjusted for inflation. That fell to $1,195 by 2018. Meanwhile other college graduates saw their inflation-adjusted average weekly wages increase from $1,612 to $1,777 over that same period.
The McCleary decision forced Washington’s legislature to devote substantially more resources to K-12 education, including some specifically to enhance teacher salaries. Last year, teachers in a number of districts did negotiate double-digit raises – but not enough to fill a 31.6 percent gap, and school districts across the state are looking ahead to shortfalls if the state fails to provide more funding.
We won’t be able to provide a quality education for all children in our state unless we pay teachers enough to allow them to live in the communities they serve and attract a continuing pool of young people to the profession. Our kids and our schools also rely on a host of other services, including quality childcare and early learning, affordable college, public health and mental health services, and affordable housing. All these things cost taxpayer dollars. We can’t pit them against each other if we want our kids and communities to thrive.
Washington legislators need to step up and pass new progressive revenue sources, including the capital gains tax, higher taxes on professional business services, and the tax on excess executive compensation.
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Washington pays teachers 31.6% less than similarly educated professionals.