Teachers are responsible for shaping the future generations of leaders, professionals, and citizens. Most people can name at least one teacher who impacted or helped shape their life in some way. Despite the critical role they play in society, however, most teachers are often underpaid and undervalued. This is one of the major factors that has led to a nationwide shortage of qualified teachers, particularly in low-income areas. In response to this problem, several legislators have been working on regulations to increase teacher salaries.
One piece of legislation, H.R.9566 – American Teacher Act, was introduced to the 117th Congress by Representative Susan Davis, on December 14, 2022. This bill seeks to raise the minimum teacher salary to $60,000 by providing a funding source that will enable states and districts the ability to close the gap between current salaries and the minimum of $60,000 over the course of 4 years.
In a press release, Wilson wrote, “The American Teacher Act centers education as a national priority and addresses teacher shortages by supporting states in better-insulating teaching as a valued and viable career.”
The bill would authorize funding to support the following:
- Allot 15% of funding to states and 85% directly to school districts to support this transition.
- Provide a cost-of-living adjustment to ensure that the minimum teacher salary keeps pace with inflation.
- Require a maintenance-of-effort provision to ensure states and districts do not replace currently committed allocations with federal government funding.
- Include a part-time teacher provision that adjusts the required minimum salary proportional to workload (e.g., a 60% FTE teacher would have a minimum salary of $36,000).
- Provide a separate grant program to award states cost-of-living adjustments where the base teacher salary exceeds $60,000.
- Prioritize local educational agencies qualifying as low or moderate-income.
- Invest in a national campaign to expand awareness of the value of teaching and encourage secondary and college students to consider a teaching career
The Current State of Teacher Compensation in the US:
According to data from the National Education Association, the average starting teacher salary for 2020-2021 was $41,770, an increase of 1.4% over 2019-2020. However, when adjusted for inflation, the average salary declined by 4% during this time period. Some of the lowest starting rates were recorded in places like Montana ($32,495) and Missouri ($33,234). Salaries didn’t fare much better in areas of the country where the cost of living is much higher such as New York ($47,618) and California ($49,933).
This is problematic because many teachers report having a hard time trying to make ends meet. Some are forced to work second jobs or take on additional responsibilities just to pay their bills.1 This can lead to burnout and high teacher turnover rates, which are detrimental to students’ education. Additionally, low teacher salaries can deter talented individuals from entering the profession in the first place.
Arguments For and Against the Bill:
Supporters of the American Teacher Bill argue that it is long overdue. Over 50 organizations support the bill, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).2 Becky Pringle, president of the NEA, stated, “Fueled by insufficient teacher salaries and chronic underfunding of our public schools, our leaders need to immediately adopt solutions to the educator shortage, including treating educators with the respect and competitive compensation these dedicated professionals deserve. The American Teacher Act is an encouraging step forward, and NEA applauds Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for introducing legislation to enact long-term solutions to this longstanding, systemic issue.”3
Opponents of the bill argue it could be too costly and lead to cuts in other areas of education funding. In a statement made to The 74 last month, Virginia Foxx, chair of the House education committee, said, “The federal government should not determine the salary for every teacher in the country. A top-down approach fails to improve school and student success.”
Some states are already pushing to increase teacher wages. Last month Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas introduced and omnibus education reform package which includes raising the minimum starting salary for teachers to $50,000 in her state.4 In Utah, the Senate unanimously passed a bill in February that would annually adjust a teacher’s pay raise to keep up with inflation and the state’s per-pupil funding. 5 Last year, New Mexico, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation that increased teachers’ minimum salaries by $10,000 and raised base salaries an average of 20 percent. In Mississippi, teachers received an average increase of more than 10 percent.
If the American Teacher Bill were to become law, it would have a significant impact on teacher salaries. The bill proposes a minimum salary of $60,000 per year, which is a significant increase from the current average salary in the US. This increase in salary could help to attract and retain high-quality teachers, particularly in high-need areas. While there is opposition to the bill, it represents a promising solution to help mitigate teacher shortages which is one of the most pressing issues facing our education system today.