Bargain Prices on Teachers in Tennessee

Two years ago, I wrote about the teacher wage gap in Tennessee — the fact that teachers in Tennessee earned nearly 30% less than similarly prepared professionals. Now, the Economic Policy Institute has updated their study of teacher pay relative to other professions.

Guess what?

Tennessee teachers still come at bargain basement prices!

While there is some (slightly) encouraging news, the bottom line: Teacher pay in Tennessee is still not really improving relative to other professions.

This year’s results indicate a national average teacher pay gap of 23.8%. Tennessee’s gap is 27.3%. That’s an improvement of two points for Tennessee, which had a gap of 29.3% two years ago.

That said, Tennessee’s gap is still worse than the national average and among the worst in the Southeast.

Of 12 Southeastern states, Tennessee ranks 8th in teacher pay gap — that’s up one place from 9th two years ago.

Here are the numbers:

Mississippi                   18.9%

South Carolina            20.5%

West Virginia              21.2%

Louisiana                     23.5%

Arkansas                      24.3%

Kentucky                     24.6%

Florida                         25.7%

Tennessee              27.3%

Georgia                       29%

Alabama                     29.4%

Virginia                      33.6%

North Carolina         35.5%

 

Yes, the authors acknowledge that teacher benefit packages tend to be more generous than those offered other professionals. By their analysis, teachers have a benefits package that is a bit more than 7% more generous than similar professionals. The most expensive of these benefits is healthcare, followed by defined-benefit pensions.

Tennessee teacher healthcare benefits vary by district, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll assume that Tennessee teachers receive the national average benefits advantage.

Doing so means Tennessee teachers are still paid 20% less than similarly-trained professionals.

While some progress on this front is better than none at all, continuing down this road is not sustainable. Investing in teachers by providing compensation on par with other professions requiring similar education and training is essential to recruitment and retention.

Tennessee’s next Governor and the General Assembly sworn-in in January of 2019 should move past studying the issue and get to work finding long-term solutions to close this gap and pay our teachers the salaries they deserve.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Filling the Wage Gap

Yesterday, I reported on the national wage gap between teachers and other professionals and dug into the data to look at the impact on Tennessee.

It’s pretty disappointing nationally, but the Tennessee numbers are especially disturbing: Below the national average and even about 3 points below the Southeastern average.

We can do better.

Here’s the good news: The Department of Finance and Administration recently released revenue numbers for the fiscal year that ended June 30th. Turns out, we have LOTS of extra money.

Specifically:

Year-to-date revenues for 12 months were $925.0 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded revenues in the amount of $852.4 million more than the budgeted estimate, and the four other funds $72.6 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Yes, that’s right, $925 million MORE than we planned on having.

To fully close the wage gap for teachers, we’d need around $500 million which would result in a raise of about $10,000 per teacher.

With this available surplus, Tennessee could become the first state in the nation to close the wage gap completely. And we could do it with $425 million to spare. That’s pretty conservative. Oh, and we could do it without raising a single tax.

An even more conservative approach would be to phase-in wage gap closure over two to three years to ensure revenue is keeping up. That could mean an average raise of about $5000 per teacher in the first year and slightly smaller, but significant raises in successive years.

A move like that would grab national attention. Suddenly, our neighbors in Kentucky and Alabama could no longer say they offer a better value proposition for their teachers.

We would not only deliver on becoming the fastest-improving state in teacher salaries, we’d be doing it in a fiscally responsible, conservative way.

If you’re in college and want to be a teacher, wouldn’t you want to go where you could make just as much as your professional peers? In Tennessee, you’re making 30% less at current numbers. But the budget situation in our state means it doesn’t have to be that way.

The first state in the nation to close the teacher wage gap. It could be Tennessee.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Teachers! Deep Discounts! 30% off in TN!

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:

Louisiana                              80.5%

South Carolina                    79.2%

Kentucky                              78.8%

Mississippi                           74.8%

Arkansas                               74.8%

Florida                                   74.6%

West Virginia                       74.6%

Alabama                                71.8%

Tennessee                             70.7%

Georgia                                  69.3%

Virginia                                  66.9%

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.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport