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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'American Teacher Act' would set $60K base pay for teachers

Teacher pay should start at a minimum of $60,000 a year, said advocates of the American Teacher Act at the U.S. Capitol last week, reports Adam Goldstein of the Iowa Capital Dispatch in The 74.

The bill provides four years of federal grants to raise teacher pay, as well as funding for "a national awareness campaign" touting the teaching profession.

Median pay for public school teachers was $61,600 in 2020-21, according to the National Education Association, but the range is large. Mississippi paid an average of $46,862, while the average teacher in New York made $90,222.

The sponsor, Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, a former teacher, said 1 in 5 teachers works a second job to supplement their income, contributing to a reported teacher shortage in some school districts.

The bill, originally introduced in December, is being revised to account for differences in the cost of living, writes Libby Sanford in Education Week.

It's also not clear how "teacher" will be defined. Policymakers don't want to fund unqualified or underqualified teachers, she writes. "Some states, including Arizona, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma, have eased certification requirements or dropped requirements that teachers receive a bachelor’s degree." However, they also don't want to deny raises to "people from diverse backgrounds."

Arne Duncan, who served as secretary of Education in the Obama administration, estimated the grants would cost around $50 billion a year, but said it would be worth it to improve teacher quality.

However, raises will go to all teachers, regardless of their ability, and the bill apparently will require that districts maintain a salary schedule that pays based on seniority rather than merit. District won't be able to channel raises to math, physics, special-education or bilingual teachers, who are in short supply.

States and districts that reject the federal funds will see teachers go to neighboring states that pay more, advocates said. But, if states can't afford to pay more, they'll be in trouble when the federal grants dry up.

Of course, setting teacher pay at the federal level makes no sense, and the odds of the American Teacher Act passing are very low.

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