The Teacher Wage Gap Persists

Economic Policy Institute is out with a survey of teacher compensation relative to other, similarly educated professionals. The news continues to be bad for teachers nationally. Teachers earn roughly 20% less than comparably educated professionals on average. In Tennessee, that number is 21.4%.

Notes: Figure reports state-specific regression-adjusted teacher weekly wage penalties: how much less, in percentage terms, elementary, middle, and secondary public school teachers earn in weekly wages than their college-educated, nonteaching peers.
See Allegretto and Mishel 2019, especially Appendix A, for more details.
Source: Authors’ analysis of pooled 2014–2019 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group data accessed via EPI Current Population Survey Extracts, Version 1.0.2 (EPI 2020).

That’s not good news. Especially in light of a worsening teacher shortage crisis.

It’s especially bad news in light of TISA – Gov. Bill Lee’s new school funding formula. While Lee and his allies would have you believe otherwise, TISA does nothing to significantly invest in teachers. There’s no significant adjustment to teacher minimum salaries and nothing in TISA directly results in hiring more teachers. This is disappointing since a state review suggests districts hire a total of 7000+ more teachers than the state funds.

Here’s more on the TISA reality:

Here’s more from EPI on what the teacher wage gap means in states across the country:

The teacher wage penalty has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher wage penalty is how much less, in percentage terms, public school teachers are paid in weekly wages relative to other college-educated workers (after accounting for factors known to affect earnings such as education, experience, and state residence). The regression-adjusted teaching wage penalty was 6.0% in 1996. In 2019, the penalty was 19.2%, reflecting a 2.8 percentage-point improvement compared with a penalty of 22.0% a year earlier.

The wage premium that women teachers experienced in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by a significant wage penalty. As noted in our previous research, women teachers enjoyed a 14.7% wage premium in 1960, meaning they were paid 14.7% more than comparably educated and experienced women in other occupations. In 2019, women teachers were earning 13.2% less in weekly wages than their nonteaching counterparts were—a 27.9 percentage-point swing over the last six decades.

The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 (composed of a 19.2% wage penalty offset by a 9.0% benefits advantage). The bottom line is that the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 7.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2019.

It’s interesting that this problem is not getting significantly better, even as districts across Tennessee and around the country are dealing with both a teacher exodus and a lack of candidates to replace them.

It’s also interesting that even with a relatively stable, secure benefits package, the teacher wage gap continues to expand over time. It should be noted that in Tennessee, teacher pensions were “reformed” in 2014 and teachers hired since then now have a significantly smaller retirement package.

It’s also worth noting here that Tennessee teachers have the lowest pension benefit of any of our neighboring states.

As the study by SREB notes, Tennessee teachers earn about $10,000 less per year in retirement than their neighbors in other Southern states.

TISA could have been a way to change all of that – to vastly improve teacher compensation and make Tennessee a national leader in both pay and support for teachers.

Instead, the one-time raise offered by the plan will amount to about a 2.5% increase this year. Teacher pay in Tennessee will continue to lag behind other states in our region. Teachers here will continue to earn 21% less than their comparably educated peers.

Year after year, policymakers look at a growing problem and then just look away. Even in a year with a massive budget surplus, Tennessee leaders have made a clear statement that investing in teachers is not a priority.

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Top Privatizer Backs TISA

State Rep. Mark White is tweeting out misleading information about Gov. Lee’s school funding overhaul (TISA) in an attempt to build support for the effort as the legislature enters its final weeks.

So, this is just flat out wrong. First, as currently envisioned, there’s less than $1 billion in “new” money for schools. Oh, and White has been a leader on the House Education Committee for years – why is he just NOW doing any of this?

White is among the legislative leaders who routinely ignore the BEP Review Committee:

He’s also ignored the TACIR recommendations to add $1.7 billion to K-12 funding to address the underfunding of teachers and staff. By the way, TISA does NOT address this shortfall.

This is the same Mark White who carried the water for Lee’s state charter authorizer scheme – you know, the plan to remove local authority from charter school decisions:

Here’s what Nashville education blogger TC Weber had to say about White back in 2020:

Well, he supported an unconstitutional voucher bill in spite of purportedly, “not liking it”. He failed to increase funding for Tennessee school districts despite the state sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money. He supported a literacy bill that robbed LEA’s of power to choose materials and curriculum, increased testing, and called for the retention of third-graders – luckily despite his support, the bill failed to pass. He failed to substantially raise teacher salaries. Salaries have been stagnating for years.

But sure, we should totally trust Mark White to tell the truth about TISA.

Here’s the truth he won’t tell, though:

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$867 Million

That’s how much Gov. Lee’s TISA funding plan could send from current public schools to charter schools.

Here’s more:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1513679951983267840?s=20&t=ub9m5VwmjC6IWGHlZxgNcA

MORE on TISA:

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Faith Leaders Raise Objections to TISA

From NewsBreak:

In a media event, a group of pastors and parents affiliated with the Southern Christian Coalition said Gov. Bill Lee’s school funding formula proposal, known as TISA, fails to provide adequate funding for all Tennessee schools.

Rev. Laura Becker, Pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, opened the virtual press conference sharing that her children have been in the Hamilton Public School system since 2008. “We are here today as pastors in the state of Tennessee, calling on our legislature to adequately fund our public schools, and invest and care for the children of Tennessee, knowing that they are each made in the image of God. All Tennessee students deserve the right to high quality and fully funded education that prepares them to achieve their full potential and successfully contribute to our communities and to our state. Unfortunately, from threats to dissolve school boards, to corporate private charter schools that make money from public schools, Tennessee’s Supermajority Republicans are doing everything to avoid dealing with the fact that Tennessee provides less in state funding per student than almost any other state in the country. 

Becker specifically addressed the TISA school funding overhaul being advanced by Lee:

“I’ve been following some of Governor Lee’s new school funding plan usually called TISA, and unfortunately, it just isn’t enough and it isn’t right. Instead of addressing the issue at the root by funding our public schools as much as every other state, this new funding plan would still require too much funding from local governments.

“This so-called ‘student centered funding approach’ shows a clear motive of Gov. Lee and the Supermajority Republicans that they have of privatizing our public schools and turning our tax dollars over to private schools and corporate funded charter schools.”

Rev. Dr. Donna Whitney also shared why public school funding is a priority to her as her daughters graduated from Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“The goal of our school funding system should be to ensure that all children, all children, no matter where they live, or the challenges they face, have the opportunity for a public education that prepares them to be responsible and productive citizens. The purpose of funding public education is to ensure that there are adequate resources to serve the educational requirements of all children. And that funding is distributed equitably, so that all children can access equal educational opportunities.

“Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s TISA funding plan is neither adequate nor equitable, while claiming to be student centered, the TISA plan now before our legislature is anything but truly student centered. TISA is actually corporate centered, using students as vehicles to escort dollars, our public tax dollars out of public schools and into corporate treasuries.”

brown wooden church bench near white painted wall
Photo by Nikko Tan on Pexels.com

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The Truth about TISA

Gov. Bill Lee is proposing a significant change to the way the state funds public schools. His proposal would replace the decades old BEP formula with something he calls TISA – Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement.

Except, well, the plan does nothing to invest in student achievement. Rather, it is a complicated system of weights applied to students that supposedly will lead to improved student achievement based on how districts use funds for targeted interventions.

In other words, the same old stuff in a shiny new, complicated package.

Here’s how we know this plan won’t boost student achievement. First, it does nothing to shore up the shortage of teachers needed to adequately support students now. That is, according to both TACIR and the Comptroller, Tennessee districts hire MORE teachers (11,000 more, to be exact) than the current formula funds. Guess what? TISA does nothing to change that. There is no indication that the weights will mean more teachers hired and supported by state funding.

Next, TISA does nothing to boost overall teacher pay. Sure, TISA “allows” lawmakers to earmark certain funds to give raises to “existing” teachers, but that doesn’t mean they will. Nor does it mean those raises will be significant. This year’s $125 million set aside for teacher compensation will mean what is effectively a 2-3% raise for most teachers. Based on current inflation rates and rising insurance premiums, this essentially amounts to a pay cut.

If Lee actually wants to improve student achievement, he’d make a significant investment in teacher salaries. First, we have a teacher shortage that is only getting worse – more pay is not the only remedy, but it is a good tool to stem the tide.

Next, a recent study shows that boosting teacher pay has a direct, positive impact on student achievement.

Researchers have conducted a massive, unprecedented statistical analysis of public school teacher salaries and student standardized test performance in the United States, finding that when teachers are paid more, students score higher.

Why does this happen? The researchers offer this suggestion:

Prior research has shown that increased teacher salaries prompt higher quality students to seek careers in education. Additional pay also lowers teacher turnover, keeping talented, experienced teachers in their jobs and resulting in more educator continuity for students, which builds trust between teacher and pupil.

This recent study of teachers in the United States can be compared with a study by researchers at the London School of Economics which also demonstrated that higher teacher pay was causally related to higher student achievement:

“. . . we find that a 10% increase in teachers’ pay would give a 5-10% increase in pupil performance.”

But Lee’s plan doesn’t do that. Or even approach that. At best, this year’s raise will mean 3%. Going forward under TISA, every indication is that the state increase to base teacher compensation will be between 2-4% a year – or, a mere inflationary adjustment – no real boost in actual income.

Here’s what Lee’s plan does do: Raise local property taxes.

Meghan Mangrum in The Tennessean offers an analysis of how local property taxes would increase under TISA:

“Under TISA, the required local match for Davidson County is anticipated to increase by $35 million between FY23 and FY24, while the state’s investment in Nashville’s students will only increase by $12.6 (million) under the projections they have provided,” spokesperson Sean Braisted said in an email. 

And that’s just Nashville. 28 districts will have to increase local contributions (raise taxes) beyond current levels in FY 2024. Then, in FY 2027, after TISA’s hold harmless expires, it is likely many more districts will see increased costs.

TC Weber dives deeper into the funding issue – the bottom line: Your local taxes will likely go up to fund TISA.

Why is this happening? Because the new formula is NOT addressing the underlying issue: Our current formula doesn’t pay for the teachers we need. The secondary (and very important issue) is that TISA does not address the need to significantly boost teacher compensation.

Here’s the deal: Tennessee COULD address this issue.

As the Sycamore Institute tells us:

Governor Bill Lee and state lawmakers just used some of Tennessee’s largest ever budget surplus to fund a historically large incentive package for Ford Motor Company. Even after that deal, policymakers may still have at least $3 billion in unallocated funds to appropriate next year. This total includes a record-setting $2 billion for recurring items – and that’s before even speculating about routine revenue growth. For comparison, Tennessee’s total budget from state revenues this year was about $21 billion before the Ford deal passed.

We’ve got $3 billion in extra cash just lying around!

Well, and we’ve got even more. The Department of Finance and Administration reports the state is more than $2 billion OVER estimated revenue collections this year so far!

Year-to-date revenues for six months were $2.15 billion more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded $2.02 billion in revenues more than estimates, and the four other funds totaled $126.7 million more than year-to-date estimates.

So, here’s what a student-achievement focused budget would look like:

$1 billion to close the gap in needed teachers – that’s $1 billion from the state allocated to local districts to fund the teachers local dollars are already providing.

$1 billion to raise teacher pay by 15% or more for ALL teachers – This assumes the state covers the cost of the increase for the newly state-funded teachers (7000-9000) plus all teachers currently covered.

Guess what? We can do that with billions of dollars left over.

Guess what else? Implementing a plan like this can be done by making adjustments to the current BEP formula.

And you know what else? This can be done without raising local taxes one cent. No state tax increase, no local tax increase, more teachers covered with state dollars, and better pay for all teachers. That’s an evidence-based, affordable solution to the problem Lee says he’s trying to address.

Which begs the question: Why does Lee’s plan rely on local property taxes and why doesn’t Lee’s plan improve the number of teachers or pay them significantly more?

The answer could be in the millions of dollars spent by pro-voucher and pro-charter (privatization) interests to influence state education policy.

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