Senior Director of State Fiscal Research
Teachers in every state are paid less on average than other similarly educated workers, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the University of California, Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED), and the gap is growing. This erosion reflects state policy choices, not weak state economies. As our analysis of K-12 funding trends shows, the three states where teachers fare the worst — Arizona, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — have deeply cut taxes in recent years and imposed some of the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 (see chart).
The EPI-CWED report finds that nationally, the teacher wage gap — the percent by which public school teachers are paid less than comparable workers — hit a record 18.7 percent in 2017. The gap is slightly smaller (15.6 percent) for women but much larger (26.8 percent) for men, reflecting the fact that men have historically had more job options due to gender discrimination. While teachers enjoy more generous benefits than other professionals, this doesn’t make up for the gap in wages. And benefits, though important, can’t be spent on housing, food, and other necessities.
Arizona and Oklahoma teachers both secured pay increases this spring after major teacher protests, but both states need more revenues to sustainably fund the promised increases and reverse past cuts:
In North Carolina, where deep income tax cuts have failed to produce the promised economic boom, led to serious fiscal instability, and worsened racial wealth disparities, lawmakers have refused to even halt another round of tax cuts slated to take effect next year. General school aid per student last school year remained 7.9 percent below a decade ago, after adjusting for inflation.
An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that teachers are paid too little, as poll after poll after poll shows. Increasing teacher pay and adequately investing in public schools — and raising the revenue needed to do so — should be a top priority for state lawmakers across the country.