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Median teacher pay drops over the last ten years, when adjusted for inflation

Teacher in a classroom
mangpor2004 - stock.adobe.com
Teacher in a classroom

A new study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum looked at teacher salaries over time.

It found that, adjusted for inflation, median teacher pay has fallen over the last decade.

All across Wisconsin, and the country, schools are in a severe teacher shortage.

In April,Wisconsin Policy Forum found that a record number of public school teachers left the classroom, the highest number since 2012.

Planning for the upcoming school year, many school districts announced raises that were equivalent to the maximum amount allowed under state law, which is tied to inflation.

For the 2022-23 year, the amount is 8%, reflecting high inflation.

This is Sara Shaw, Senior Education Policy Researcher at the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

“We were not sure how all these districts were going to pay for those raises, because the primary form of funding available for schools, which is that through the revenue limit, was only going up by 2.7%. So that was an immediate mismatch,” explained Shaw.

Researchers then delved into how median teacher pay had changed over the past decade and how that related to the amount districts could pay teachers now.

“When we adjusted for inflation, it went down by a little over 12%. And maybe you'd say, well, but everyone was lagging inflation these last couple of years, because it was going up by so much so quickly. And that's true. But we saw teacher’s pay lagging inflation, even before these last few years of very high rates,” said Shaw.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum found that median teacher gross teacher pay has declined in value from 2009 to 2023 by a little over 12%, or over $1,000, if you adjust for inflation.

Shaw says pay rates are still impacted by the wave of retirements of higher-paid teachers in the system in 2012 after Act 10, a law that prevents public employees from collective bargaining.

At a roundtable discussion and presentation with student mental health advocates at Merrill High School, Governor Tony Evers said, “I think Act 10 was a mistake, and it's paid a price. Wages for teachers and fringe benefits for teachers have shrunk over time. And that leads to shrinking of wages in the non union world too."

"It seemed to be tied to the one hand, some retirements that's driving that median number down, but also to state limits on the amount that districts can receive and revenue, which then limits what they can pay out,” said Shaw.

Shaw explained, "what we actually found is that districts haven't been able to increase pay even up to the amount limited by act 10, which is why we think it's these revenue limits set by the state that cap how much money districts received in the first place.”

This leaves districts caught between wanting to keep their teachers in the system, while remaining constrained by their financial realities.

In small rural districts, where there are higher rates of turnover and transfers to other districts, Shaw found lower than average median pay, which she thinks could contribute to those rates.

Districts are under a lot of pressure to retain and compensate teachers, but funding is unpredictable.

In Wisconsin, funding is connected to the amount of students enrolled, and across the state, that number is falling.

“We see it in teacher pay quite clearly, because that's such a big proportion of school districts' budgets, but it's not just a teacher pay issue. It's a broader question of ‘how are we funding our schools?’ And ‘how is the landscape and how are these structures going to react to having this decline in student enrollment and what that means for how schools might start looking different in Wisconsin?’” said Shaw.

To take a look at the report, head over to https://wispolicyforum.org/research/wisconsins-teacher-pay-predicament/.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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