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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teacher pay: U.S. chose quantity over quality

U.S. teachers would earn a lot more if schools had invested in quality rather than quantity, argues Fordham's Chester E. Finn Jr.

In his salad days (and mine), there was one teacher for every 27 students, more or less, Finn writes. Now the ration is 1 to 16. If the ratio had stayed the same, teachers could earn 69 percent more than they do now.

Everyone wanted smaller classes, he writes. "So we’ve taken the huge increases over those decades in per-pupil spending on K–12 education and — instead of directing those dollars into better pay for the teachers we’ve got and using it to get and keep exceptionally able and effective teachers — we’ve used them to hire more people."

The average public-school teacher salary in 2021–22 was $66,432, according to the National Education Association, with new teachers starting in the low $40,000 range. Congressional liberals want to make $60,000 the minimum nationwide with experienced teachers earning more. The teacher work year is nine months, writes Finn. Benefits are 45 percent of base wages, according to the Commerce Department, much higher than in the private sector. "If you take a $60,000 nine-month salary 'floor' and 'annualize' it to $80,000, then add 45 percent worth of benefits, you get to $116,000, which surely ain’t hay."

Teachers value working conditions, not just the paycheck, he notes. A recent survey of teachers found: “[T]eachers value access to special education specialists, counselors, and nurses more than a 10 percent salary increase or three-student reduction in class size." Student enrollment is down, but schools are adding teachers and non-teaching staff, reports Chad Aldeman.

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