Most of us can remember a teacher that impacted our lives and who we are today. I think about Ms. Wetzel and her encouraging me to keep writing and join the school newspaper. Her advice, enthusiasm and passion led to me finding my love for journalistic writing. I felt that she truly wanted me to succeed, and she encouraged me to do something I probably would not have done otherwise.
Teachers are essential to the educational experience, and they need to be paid more. Teachers are the educators of our youth, and it has become harder to attract people to the profession. Teacher wage gaps have been widening in the past 30 years, reaching a gap of about $1,130 in 2017 between teachers and those with a comparable degree. Because of the low pay, teachers are quickly leaving their jobs to look for higher paying occupations, and due to the consistency of teachers getting underpaid, less and less college graduates strive to join the profession.
Teacher turnover rates, especially in under resourced settings, have already been high in the U.S., but with COVID, the issue has only worsened. In a poll by EdWeek Research Center, 33% of teachers said they were likely to leave in the next year, but 47% said they would have been very unlikely to say that they would have left the profession before the pandemic.
COVID has caused issues in all realms of the world — our economy, our health, and our schools. It has been devastating for public education with teachers having to find ways to keep students engaged along with not having enough resources to make sure that they can provide the tools necessary for students to succeed. There was a report in April 2022 done by My eLearning World revealing that teachers are making 25% less money each year compared to the average college graduate, and there are currently 567,000 fewer teachers compared to before the pandemic.
How do we change this? How do we ensure not just ours, but everybody’s children get the best teachers and education experience possible? It’s all up to money. Using higher funds from the federal government, states should create policies to increase teacher salaries since they have a greater capacity to distribute funds to higher need schools and implement a fair pay system. This system could be based on teacher performance, the number of resources a school has, student performance, etc.
While states like Georgia and Utah paid teachers around a $1000 pandemic bonus, increased salaries need to be a long-term policy. Pay-for-performance programs already exist in various states including North Carolina where $750 to $1500 bonuses are handed out to teaching staff based on end-of-year student performances. However, there are various ways that states could and should increase pay for teachers. Since high need schools often struggle retaining teachers, these schools should be the first focus of states’ funds.
Additional pay in the form of recruitment or retention bonuses can be successful in keeping teachers around in high need schools. Florida established a program from 1984 until 2010 that provided loans to certified teachers experienced in high need areas, compensated teachers for the cost of taking courses to become certified teachers in high need areas, and gave bonuses to certified and experienced teachers in high need areas for one year. Unfortunately, the federal government stopped funding the program, but this program ultimately led to an increased likelihood of teachers staying at schools for longer.
Although this program was eliminated, similar programs have been implemented statewide with continued funding from the federal government have led to schools hiring higher qualified teachers, lessened teacher turnover rates, and led to improved student performances. The grossly low teacher salaries continue to be an issue scamming our youth of a quality education, but with funding allocation being managed at the state level, teachers and students alike would have improved educational experiences.
Samantha Cue (PPS ’24) is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’22 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.