A new study of teacher pay relative to pay received by other, similarly-educated workers reveals a growing gap. Not surprisingly, teachers are on the losing end, earning roughly 23% less than their peers in other professions. Here in Tennessee, teachers earn 29.3% less than similarly-prepared professionals.
Tennessee’s wage gap for teachers is among the worst in the Southeast, in fact. The average of 11 southern states is a 26.5% gap, leaving Tennessee nearly three points behind.
Here are the numbers (showing what percentage teachers earn relative to their peers) for states in our region:
South Carolina 79.2%
West Virginia 74.6%
North Carolina 65.4%
The study also addresses what it calls the “benefits-bias.” This is the fact that teachers and other public employees tend to receive more generous healthcare and retirement benefits than their private sector peers. Currently, that number stands at around 6% nationally in favor of teachers. Tennessee doesn’t have the most generous pension or benefits plan, but it’s likely similar to states in our region. Even if you assume the full 6% for Tennessee teachers, though, our teachers are still paid 23.3% less than their professional peers.
The weighted average teacher salary in Tennessee according to the BEP Review Committee is just under $44,000 a year. To fully close the gap, Tennessee teachers would need an average raise of about $10,000 a year.
While the state legislature has passed four percent BEP salary increases in the past two legislative sessions, those funds don’t always make it into teachers’ paychecks due to the Huffman pay plan and action by the State Board of Education.
The bottom line: Teacher pay matters. It may not be the only factor impacting who chooses teaching and who stays in teaching, but it certainly is an important one. This report notes the disturbing fact that the pay gap between teaching and other professions is widening. That makes it difficult to encourage college students to consider teaching and it also makes it challenging to keep experienced teachers in the profession. A gap of 5-10% can be offset by the benefits earned by teachers. A nearly 30% gap such as exists in Tennessee is unacceptable. Closing this gap will require a sustained commitment to fund teacher pay at the state level. Alternatively, the value proposition for teachers in Tennessee will continue to lag behind that of our neighboring states, not to mention other professionals.
For now, school systems and the state can continue to hire teachers at deep discounts — nearly 30% off! While that may seem like a good deal, it’s one that will exacerbate teacher shortages and shortchange our students. We must do better.
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