Teachers earn less than they did a decade ago in most states, when adjusted for inflation (and sometimes even when not.)

When adjusted for inflation, only seven states have teachers earning as much or more than they were in 2014. The scale ranges from an increase of 24% (Washington state) to a decrease of over 17% (Michigan). This under-funding has gone on since the 2008 recession, and now 15 years into that, we’re faced with immense teacher shortages and burnout that is heavily impacting our quality of education.

Poor and rural areas are the most impacted with shortages, as more affluent areas can fill empty spots in their staff rosters by luring teachers away from areas that cannot afford to make them the same offers. Specialty subjects like math, science, and special education are particularly hard-hit.

In general, teachers earn less than their peers in fields which require similar education, and teachers report that their workloads have grown, their autonomy is under threat, and both parents and school administrators are increasingly hostile to deal with.

Fixing teachers’ deteriorating work culture and growing workloads would be a more powerful incentive than a pay raise, according to exit interviews with teachers leaving the field.

Research shows a pay raise will have at least some effect on retaining teachers, said Ed Fuller, a Penn State associate professor who studies teacher quality and turnover. What is difficult to research, Fuller said, is the effect a raise has on a college student’s decision to enter a teacher preparation program — and take on debt. The average cost of a bachelor’s teaching degree right now, without any special credentials, is between $40,000 and $60,000, or about what a teacher can expect to earn in a year after taxes.

The money can be there to raise salaries – our defense budget makes it plain that money can always be found when it’s wanted. But fixing the culture of teaching will be more difficult, and some think it’s already too late.

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