Congress May Raise Educators’ Minimum Salaries to Combat the Teacher Exodus

When it comes to teachers, America doesn’t mind getting away cheap.

The minimum salary for a teacher in Pennsylvania is $18,500 a year.

That’s not a lot of money – roughly $9.63 an hour.

It’s barely more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour ($15,080 annually).

But in many states there is no minimum teacher salary – so the minimum wage IS a teacher’s minimum salary!

You could probably make more as a dishwasher, cashier or parking lot attendant. So why take on a four-year education degree, mountains of student loan debt, and the added challenge of a (likely unpaid) internship?

Just pick up a broom and start sweeping.

Perhaps that’s why a group of Congressional Democrats have proposed a national minimum salary for teachers.

Rep. Frederica Wilson and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, (both former teachers) and six other members of the House have introduced The American Teacher Act establishing a minimum salary of $60,000 for all public school teachers working in the U.S. – the first legislation of its kind.

Though state minimums are less (assuming your state has one at all), the average starting salary of teachers nationwide was $41,770 in the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Education Association (which supports the bill).

However, even that number shows how poorly we reimburse teachers for their labor.

It means on average teachers make about 77 cents on the dollar compared to their peers in similar professions, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

So a potentially $20,000 base increase would help.

If passed, the bill wouldn’t simply force all states to comply. It would offer funding through federal grants encouraging states and school districts to raise their minimum starting salary to $60,000 by the 2024-25 academic year.

In the short term, the funding would pay to implement the new salary minimum but states would be responsible for sustaining the cost in the long run.

No cost projection for the program has yet been conducted.

The new minimum salary would be adjusted for inflation each year, beginning with the 2025-26 school year, and any grant funding would have to be used toward salaries and not to supplant any existing funding that goes toward schools.

Sponsors hope the bill would affect more than just minimum salaries.

The idea is that states would adjust their entire teacher salary schedules with $60,000 as the floor and all other salary steps increasing incrementally based on education levels and years of experience. So even veteran teachers should see their wages increase.

However, the bill doesn’t stop there. The authors of the legislation know that respect for the teaching profession is important to ensure salaries remain adequate.

In addition to wages, 4 percent of the grant funding would be used to launch a national campaign about the teaching profession, highlighting its importance and value as well as encouraging high school and college students to pursue a career in education.

It’s high time something were done because the US is losing teachers at an alarming rate.

After decades of neglect only made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re missing almost a million teachers.

Nationwide, we only have about 3.2 million teachers left!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in our public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And that’s on top of already losing 250,000 school employees during the recession of 2008-09 most of whom were never replaced. All while enrollment increased by 800,000 students.

Meanwhile, finding replacements has been difficult. Across the country, an average of one educator is hired for every two jobs available.

Not only are teachers paid 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience, but a 2020 survey found that 67% of teachers have or had a second job to make ends meet.

It’s no wonder then that few college students want to enter the profession.

Over the past decade, there’s been a major decline in enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs in education.

Beginning in 2011, enrollment in such programs and new education certifications in Pennsylvania — my home state— started to decline. Today, only about a third as many students are enrolled in teacher prep programs in the Commonwealth as there were 10 years ago. And state records show new certifications are down by two-thirds over that period.

Legislation like The American Teachers Act is absolutely necessary to stop the teacher exodus and ensure our children receive a quality education.

However, at present not a single Republican lawmaker has expressed support for legislation of this type, only support in individual states when it becomes obvious the whole system will collapse without help.

Moreover, even neoliberal Democrats want to use such measures to sneak in unnecessary and destructive policies like more standardized testing, evaluating teachers on student test scores and increased funding for charter schools and school voucher programs.

At present it seems unlikely that this legislation would pass in any manner that would be helpful if at all.

It may take further crumbling of the public school system and/or a change in political leadership and power for anything to be done.

On the bright side, it is encouraging that for the first time (ever?) lawmakers actually seem to recognize there is a real problem here.

It has finally come down to a simple matter of dollars and cents.


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11 thoughts on “Congress May Raise Educators’ Minimum Salaries to Combat the Teacher Exodus

  1. When we look at the actual hours salaried teachers work (I think most teachers in the US are paid a monthly salary no matter how many hours they actually work), many teachers earn a lot less than even the minimum federal wage.

    “In addition to a full day in front of the classroom (the graphic pegs the average school day at eight hours), teachers are expected to arrive at school at least an hour before school begins, and many stay an average of three to five hours beyond the traditional school day for meetings, grading, and other administrative… Aug 5, 2013” NOTE: I often arrived at 6:00 AM when the gates to the teachers parking lot were unlocked and opened. Some days, I’d still be in my classroom with students at 11:00 PM (that’s 23:00 military time) when a custodian came and told us we had to leave because the alarms were being turned on. Then there were the unpaid duties before school, after school, and sometimes on weekends.

    The key word is AVERAGE. The number of hours I put in each week was way above that average. My weeks often ran 60 to 100 hours. I worked at home, too. I also worked a few hour son most Saturdays and Sunday, always struggling to keep up with grading student work and planning lessons. I once figured out that i was earning less than one dollar an hour for the time I put in as a teacher in class and at home.

    Then there is another factor: how much do teachers spend from their salary for classroom supplies?

    NPR says $250. I spent way more than that, sometimes buying desktop computers (charged on a VISA because I didn’t have the cash) that worked since so many of the old ones the school where I taught did not work frustrating my students no end.

    And I’m not going to mention the leaky roofs, dead animals trapped under building or in walls, old, mildewed carpets. et. al. Or the year some idiot in the district office decided the high school needed to be painted and the painters showed up during the day during a hot month. Students vomiting from the paint fumes (spray paint). When I complained, that admin idiot said no. Then I complained a second time and reminded that idiot that we were starting the year’s annual testing and because the paint fumes were making the students and teachers ill/sick, the scores would probably drop.

    The spray painting stopped until teasing was over.


  2. “It has finally come down to a simple matter of dollars and cents.” I think you mean dollars and SENSE! Sorry, but both sides of the political spectrum (mostly DEMS) have ruined public education and caused the teaching shortage (Obama/Arne Duncan/Gates/Coleman etc). I don’t think that throwing more $$$ at teachers this way will “solve” the problem. There is plenty of $$$ already to pay teachers if the Dems would take a stand and get rid of the utterly ridiculous testing madness and its evil twin Common Core. Education is a big old Ponzi scheme enriching the private sector at the expense of our nation’s children (teachers included).


    • Lisa, no doubt the Dems are owed a huge share of the blame here, but so are the Republicans. In fact, if Democrats acted more like Democrats and less like Republicans it would fix a great deal of our country’s problems. Sure we could cut unnecessary spending to get this money. We just gave billions to the military that they never requested and can’t keep track of. However that’s a different issue. We need to fully find our public schools and that includes paying teachers a fair wage for all they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nobody cares about teachers until we don’t show up. And we aren’t showing up. Sadly, it will have to get worse before anything is done.


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