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Will public school teachers get a raise?

Research from the National Education Association shows the average teacher salary in 2021 was slightly over $40,000 a year.
Posted at 8:16 PM, Apr 07, 2023

It’s a lesson being learned outside the classroom — teachers pondering passion, profession and pay.

Nicholas Ferroni teaches history and cultural studies at a New Jersey high school.  

"I'm in my 20th year. I'm considered one of the best at what I do, and I still have to work second and third jobs in order to survive as a teacher. I cannot support a family as a teacher," Ferroni said. 

He says the rhetoric about children being the future needs to be supported with adequate compensation for those who spend the most time with them.

"We cannot claim to care about children and not support, pay and resource the people who spend the most time with the largest number of children, and that's teachers and school staff," Ferroni said. 

Research from the National Education Association shows the average teacher salary in 2021 was slightly over $40,000 a year. 

Their research also shows teachers make on average over $2,000 less than they did a decade ago when adjusted for inflation.  

Last December, Rep. Frederica Wilson introduced the "American Teacher Act" in the House of Representatives with more than 50 co-sponsors.  

The act would incentivize states to raise minimum teacher salaries to $60,000 a year for teachers K through 12. It would also mandate yearly increases to offset inflation. 

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and Workforce, and in February Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the introduction of complementary legislation with the "Pay Teachers Act, which would increase various sources of funding and require states to have a minimum teacher salary of at least $60,000 year with increases throughout a teacher’s career.  

The Biden administration seems to be on board with increasing teacher pay. The president said last February during his State of the Union address, "let’s give public school teachers a raise." 

Educators like Ferrone think it's a start. 

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"It's not going to solve every problem. Nothing can. But if we don't start somewhere, we won't get anywhere. So, it's a great starting point," Ferrone said. 

It’s a starting point that the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank says is needed to fix the profession. 

In August of 2022, the EPI released a report showing that over the last two decades teacher pay is falling behind other professions.  

Sylvia Allegretto, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote the EPI report and says teacher pay is even worse for women.  

"What I'm finding is that relative teacher pay, that means how teachers are doing relative to other college graduates ... shows that those weekly wage gaps between teachers and the other college grads have gotten worse and worse," Allegretto said. 

"It's a little over 17%, a negative differential. For men, it's over 35% ... and this pay gap for men has always been really, really large and explains why today there's no more men teaching than men taught in 1960, for instance," Allegretto said.

The idea of raising pay for educators seems to have support across party and state lines. 

Last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis approved $800 million for teacher pay raises passed by the Florida legislature.  It increased the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 a year.  

And in March, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the Arkansas "LEARNS Act" raising teacher pay to $50,000 a year. 

And Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona are among a few states also exploring ways to increase teacher salaries.

For teachers like New Jersey’s Nicholas Ferrone, financial relief may arrive too late, leaving the quality of teachers to suffer and possibly providing a difficult lesson for America’s education system.

"The problem is, we're not going to see the long-term effects until a few years from now when either every educator is not qualified, or kids are so far behind academically because they're not in situations to thrive," Ferrone said.