PREPARING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM FOR A $15 MINIMUM WAGE
By Kendley Davenport, CEO of Source4Teachers
Change Is Coming
Teaching is a noble profession. One of the most important underpinnings of American society is the education of our children. We teach them facts, we teach them how to think, we teach them how to be responsible members of society. Teachers, educators and the support personnel that make the education system work are vital cogs in our society.
Unfortunately, we are on the cusp of real upheaval in how children are taught. Consider this: On average, roughly 10 percent of teachers are absent from school every day, creating a logistical nightmare for school administrators who need to fill the gaps with substitute teachers.
However, a potentially greater challenge looms on the horizon, and that day-to-day gap may no longer be temporary, but permanent. Worse, it likely will affect the entire range of staff in the education system, from teachers and teachers’ aides to food service workers, custodians, hall monitors, and support personnel.
The driver of this potential sea change is something that a lot of intelligent people support for a wide variety of reasons: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
A $15 minimum wage has the potential to create this level of change in the U.S. education system, as school employees seek new job opportunities offering competitive compensation, better hours, and fewer hurdles to clear.
That reality is approaching fast. New York and California already have instituted a $15 minimum wage. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington passed minimum wage increases to $12 — $13.50 during the last election cycle. There’s been talk of an adjustment to the federal minimum wage as well, but the results of the 2016 election may push that further down the road.
As the minimum wage increases, jobs outside of the education system become more attractive. It’s in our collective best interest to build a strategy now to head off the potential complications this will cause in school districts across the nation.
A MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE Is Not a “Job Killer” in the Private Sector
Despite the fear that increasing the minimum wage results in increased unemployment, an examination of the data does not reveal a correlation that proves this claim. In fact, a review of the U.S. unemployment rate after each minimum wage increase since 1948 shows the jobless rate falling immediately after the increase in some cases and rising slightly in others; either way, it is clear that the minimum wage increase is not the primary driving factor in unemployment rates.
The effects on employment are relatively small because employers offset minimum wage increases through other means. Typically, increased wages yield happier workers, which reduces turnover and the associated cost of training a new employee. Employers also find ways to make their organizations more efficient in the face of higher wages, occasionally cap salaries for higher earners, and pass along costs to customers in the form of slightly increased prices.
The most current data from locations that have increased their minimum wage aligns with this historical trend. In Seattle, Washington, the minimum wage increased from $9.47 to $11 in April 2015, and currently sits at $13 today on its way to $15 by 2022. In the year following this increase, there was no significant negative impact. On the contrary, employment rates increased and the number of people employed in Seattle increased by 61,000 during that year.
PUSHING AND PULLING: How the Minimum Wage Increase Will Disrupt the Education System
Salaries for teachers in the education system are healthy nationwide. According to the Learning Policy Institutes’s state-by-state analysis of the teaching profession, the average starting salary for teachers in the United States is $36,141.1 The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that teacher’s aides and assistants earn an average of $24,900 per year, with a projected job growth rate of 9 percent between 2012 and 2022.2
The Pull to Jobs Outside the Education System
However, increasing the minimum wage would make salaries for entry level jobs in the private sector competitive with salaries in the education system. A minimum wage of $15 per hour is $31,200 per year in pre-tax dollars. The Learning Policy Institutes’s survey of entry level teaching positions indicates that nine states have starting salaries below this level, and 17 states are within $1,000 per year of it. Teachers and teacher’s aides also incur the opportunity cost — and debt — required to obtain a teaching degree and the required certifications:
- Opportunity cost: While pursuing a bachelor’s degree, potential teachers are losing the opportunity to earn $31,200 per year for four years (or $124,800) that a minimum wage worker would earn during that period.
- Debt: The average undergraduate student loan borrower graduates with $30,100 in loans3, and teachers with master’s degrees average $50,000 in debt (or $429 per month in loans).
It is difficult to expect teachers, aides, and support staff to dedicate time and money to training when there is the chance to earn a competitive, and sometimes better, salary without the same upfront commitment. Unfortunately, the hurdles grow higher and the gap widens as the years pass for teachers: Mid-career teachers earn 30 percent less than professionals with the same level of experience in other industries.
Both teachers and non-teaching staff have been feeling the pull out of the education system for years, and a better minimum wage will simply strengthen the force drawing them away to other industries.
The Push Out of the Education System
Both teachers and non-teaching staff may not just be pulled out of the system by a $15 minimum wage; they may be forced to leave as increased salaries place new pressures on already strained school budgets. Forced to increase compensation, schools will have to make tough decisions: which programs should be cut, how many teacher’s aides and support staff will need to be laid off, and how much class sizes will increase. will need to be laid off, and how much class sizes will increase.
Just how will costs increase? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average teacher’s aide earns $24,900 annually, or roughly $12 per hour. In 2014, there were over 1.2 million teacher’s aides employed in the United States. Increasing their salaries to $15 per hour, or $31,200 annually means that the education system would have to figure out how to come up with more than $7.5 billion dollars to accommodate the increase.
Additional Pressures and Hurdles
Teaching and non-teaching staff experience additional pressures and hurdles beyond compensation rates that make jobs outside the education system enticing, including:
- Delays before starting a new position: Credentialing and background checks can cause delays of up to a month after an application is submitted in the education system. In the private sector, a professional may be working as soon as the next day after applying.
- Expectations vs. reality: Teachers enter the profession with the desire to shape a child’s future. Training should also include an overview of the reality of teaching, which includes meeting testing standards, dealing with demanding parents, and a significant amount of paperwork. Setting realistic expectations would help to reduce attrition rates, which is a problem since unprepared teachers are up to 2.5 times more likely to leave the profession after just one year of working.
- Restrictions on creativity: Many teachers feel the requirement to “teach to the test” mandated by standardized test performance and funding restricts their creative license in the classroom.
- Work-life balance: Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties according to the National Education Association.6 This includes classroom time, before and after school duties, and time spent outside of school preparing lessons and grading papers.
- 10-month work years: “Summers off” are not an advantage to everyone in the education system. Many workers (especially hourly and substitute employees) must seek temporary employment during the summer months to alleviate financial pressures.
THE END RESULT: Teacher and Staffing Shortages
On an average school day, up to 10 percent of teaching and non-teaching staff in a school district are absent from work.7 As many as 27 percent of teachers are considered chronically absent, missing more than 10 days of class throughout the school year. In some poor rural and urban areas, chronic absenteeism approaches an astonishing 75 percent.8 In addition, most new teaching and non-teaching staff entering the education system take all vacation and PTO days allotted to them throughout the year.
This leaves school administrators scrambling day after day to fill vacancies through- out their district. When substitutes are not available, classrooms must be combined and sometimes principals find themselves in front of the blackboard. These absences are disruptive, hurt the continuity of lesson plans, and place additional burdens on teaching and non-teaching staff — leading to additional absences and attrition.
Unfortunately, this trend is not likely to improve in the near future. According to a 2016 national survey of college freshmen conducted by UCLA 9 , the number of students majoring in education has reached its lowest point in 45 years. Just 4.2 percent intend to major in education, compared to 11 percent in 2000; 10 percent in 1990; and 11 percent in 1971. This is alarming given the fact that the National Center for Education Statistics predicts that the school-age population will increase by approximately three million students in the next decade.
It’s a vicious cycle of teacher and staffing shortages that only promises to get worse in the face of a $15 minimum wage. School districts would be wise to prepare both for temporary and permanent shortages now.
This cycle could leave us with an entire generation of undereducated adults if we don’t meet this challenge head on in a dramatic way.
THE SOLUTION: A Federal Program Providing Free Education for Teachers
In order for the education system to survive and thrive, sweeping changes are need- ed. Teachers are the key to future generations of innovators in science, technology, business and the arts. The $15 minimum wage increase is coming, and steps need to be taken now to ensure that the teaching profession remains an attractive and viable career track.
We believe this conversation must start now, and we must consider bold thinking. The most effective change would be to create a federal program that provides cost-free college education for undergraduates pursuing teaching degrees. This program would ensure that potential teachers would not be enticed to take a minimum wage job instead of losing wages and racking up debt during the four years it takes to earn a degree.
In return, those teachers would have to commit to working in a teaching job for four years after graduation. If they decide to pursue another career, they would be required to pay back the cost of their college education.
This is a big idea. It might not be the perfect solution to this rapidly emerging societal problem, but it is at the very least a starting point for a hugely important conversation. Incremental changes will likely
only produce incremental results; they can slow the downward slide of the teaching profession and education system, but they can’t stop.
So let’s think big.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chief Executive Officer — Source4Teachers
Kendley Davenport is the Chief Executive Officer for Source4Teachers, a leader in the K-12 education staffing space. He leads a team of more than 250 corporate employees and more than 30,000 daily and long term substitute teachers and support staff across eight states.
With more than 30 years of leadership experience in building high-performance teams and developing innovative solutions, Mr. Davenport is an accomplished leader and strategist in the public education sector. He has a proven track record of greatly enhancing organizations’ operational performance and leading dynamic teams with an emphasis on developing people, creating exceptional operating efficiencies, establishing a profitable growth culture, and driving innovation.
Prior to Source4Teachers, Mr. Davenport spent more than 20 years in the K-12 education space serving as Vice President and Senior Vice President for Sodexo Education.
He attended Virginia Tech for his undergraduate studies, where he studied both Public Administration and Management in the Pamplin College of Business. He went on to receive his MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.