Almost 80% Of Americans Think Teachers Should Make At Least 60K A Year

Almost 80% Of Americans Think Teachers Should Make At Least 60K A Year
Elementary School Lol GIF by ABC Network

Hey! You know who deserves to make a decent living? Everyone! But also teachers. Especially teachers, really, given that we put them in charge of children and all.

But it doesn't sound like a very good deal to be a teacher in this country. Everyone knows you don't get paid enough, you'll have to spend a chunk of your own money on school supplies, you'll probably have to work another job entirely and not everyone is prepared to sign up for that level of selflessness, especially when it involves getting up so early in the morning.

Not to mention the fact that states like Florida are making it terrifying to be a teacher with all of the "anti-woke" nonsense. Who is going to sign up for that? Clearly not enough people, given that we have a nationwide teacher shortage.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders* introduced the Pay Teachers Act, which seeks to address that problem by creating a minimum $60K salary for all public school teachers across the United States.

You might think, with all the right-wing anti-public school hysteria going on, that this would not be a very popular idea, or that they would cry "Oh no! But that would be socialism!" but you would be wrong. People like it! In a survey of 1,254 likely voters conducted by Data for Progress, 77 percent supported it, with 45 percent saying they strongly support it. In fact, 33 percent of Republican voters even said they strongly support it.

Granted, it's not a huge sample, but it's a decent one — and given the fact that it's an issue that hasn't really been hotly debated in the media, it's certainly interesting to see what people's initial, instinctive feelings lie. And their initial impression is that we should be paying teachers more.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts.), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Alex Padilla (D-California), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Peter Welch (D-Vermont), would raise the salaries of 43 percent of teachers across the country.

If the bill becomes law, the pay increases will be subsidized by an increase in federal spending on education that goes both directly to schools and creates grants for college level teacher preparation programs and programs for special ed teachers in particular, since that is where the greatest shortage is.

  • Triples Title I-A funding ($36.77 billion).
  • Triples funding for Rural Education programs ($430 million), doubles Impact Aid Basic Support Payments ($1.46 billion), and provides an additional $1 billion for the Bureau of Indian Education.
  • Diversifies and expands the teacher pipeline by: (1) authorizing a new Grow Your Own program within the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program and providing $550 million for TQP grants; (2) investing $150 million in the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence program to support teacher preparation at HBCUs, TCUs and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs); and (3) investing $300 million in IDEA, Part D to support the special education personnel pipeline.
  • Supports the teaching profession by expanding leadership and advancement opportunities by investing in and strengthening the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program ($100 million) and the Teacher and School Leader Incentive program ($200 million).

“It is simply unacceptable that, in the richest country in the history of the world, many teachers are having to work two or three extra jobs just to make ends meet,” said Sanders in a statement. “The situation has become so absurd that the top 15 hedge fund managers on Wall Street make more money in a single year than every kindergarten teacher in America combined – over 120,000 teachers. Wages for public school teachers are so low that in 36 states, the average public school teacher with a family of four qualifies for food stamps, public housing and other government assistance programs. We have got to do better than that. It is time to end the international embarrassment of America ranking 29th out of 30 countries in pay for middle school teachers. If we are going to have the best public school system in the world, we have got to radically change our attitude toward education and make sure that every teacher in America receives the compensation that they deserve for the enormously important and difficult work that they do. No public school teacher in America should make less than $60,000 a year.”

To be clear, the 29th out of 30 statistic refers not to pay but to competitiveness — ie: how much teachers are paid relative to other workers at the same education level. In the US, teachers make about 60 percent of what other college educated professionals make on average, which is not a good thing if you want good, qualified people to be teachers.

And we do want people to be teachers! In fact, we need people to be teachers, because we do not currently have enough people becoming teachers. 50 out of 50 states are reporting teacher shortages in at least one area of study. An August 2022 study found that there were 36,000 vacant positions along with at least 163,000 positions being held by underqualified teachers. It seems very obvious that whatever we are doing is not working out very well.

“Educators are nation builders. They have a vital role in educating and caring for our next generation. But they are neither treated nor paid commensurate with that role. Teachers earn nearly 24 percent less than similarly educated professionals, and when adjusted for inflation, many earning less than they were making a decade ago,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “Even with their need to take second jobs, educators spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on supplies, snacks, books and other items for students. Chairman Bernie Sanders’s bill, the Pay Teachers Act, will help close the pay gap by significantly increasing federal investments in public schools and raising annual teacher salaries to at least $60,000—and providing increases throughout teachers’ careers—to help ensure teachers are paid a livable and competitive salary. It would also diversify and expand the teacher pipeline and leadership opportunities. This is a necessary federal investment to help sustain the teaching profession, and sustaining the teaching profession will directly help us provide greater opportunities to our students."

Wouldn't that be nice? It sounds nice.

This not a reward, though, to teachers simply for being such wonderful and selfless angels. This isn't "pie-in-the-sky socialism," either. This is capitalism. It's supply and demand. $60,000 is on the lower end of middle class in this country and an entirely reasonable base salary. If we do not pay people enough to be teachers, we will not have enough teachers, and if we don't have enough teachers, kids aren't going to get the education they need, which means there will be even fewer teachers and people qualified for other jobs in the future. It's not that hard. Even 77 percent of American voters can figure it out!

*Please be chill, okay?

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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