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Wisconsin has forced the debate nationally on teachers’ salaries as more and more states are cutting spending for education, claiming austerity measures. Although there is no clear correlation that better paid teachers produce more educated students, there are certainly some valid reasons why teachers should be paid better in the United States.
According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), many people do not join the teaching profession because of its low starting salary, which trails the pay of educators around the world. The average starting salary for a teacher is $32,642. The maximum salary for teachers with master’s degree is $60,036. Teachers have also been “losing ground” to other professions for years, EPI says. A 2008 report by the Economic Policy Institute argues that teachers with bachelor’s degrees earned about 12.2 percent less than their peers in 2006, while the gap between teachers and non-teachers with a master’s degree was 11.3 percent.
The National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union, believes that teachers should receive more compensation for receiving a master’s degree. “People who improve their skills should get paid more,” says Bill Raabe of the NEA “Wouldn’t you want that adult work with your children to be the best that money can buy. It’s a no brainer.”
A few schools are fighting these trends by paying teachers six-figure salaries. A New York City charter school earned headlines in 2008 for its plans to pay teachers $125,000 in exchange for working longer hours and assuming additional duties. A voluntary program instituted in Washington, D.C., last year could raise total compensation for some teachers to $140,000. Some teachers in Wisconsin and Illinois are also reportedly as handsomely compensated along with other states. According to the NEA, about 1 percent of teachers are paid that well.
Though teachers’ unions and their political allies argue that educators are underpaid, fiscal conservatives argue that given the amount of work they do and the hefty benefits they receive, that is not the case. Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says he is not against paying well. “I don’t think that all teachers should earn six figures,” Hess says in an interview. “The best teachers should earn six figures and the worst teachers should be fired.”
The states that teachers are the lowest paid are generally not known for high quality education. The states with the lowest paid teachers are Kansas, Tennessee, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Utah, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Throwing more money at a broken education system may not solve the problem. But, teachers in the United States are significantly underpaid, suggesting that the nation may not value education as it once did. This will negatively impact future generations.