After the West Virginia teacher’s strike, Vox published a fascinating graphic–an interactive database.
The article itself focused on the pay of teachers in West Virginia, and demonstrated how the buying power of those salaries–which remained essentially flat– had been eroded over the years by inflation. Accompanying the article was an interactive feature that allowed readers to see how their own states measured up.
I looked at Indiana.
The first graph showed average teacher pay (both elementary and secondary) over a fifteen-year period, in dollars, and not adjusted for inflation, both for Indiana and nationally. At the beginning of the fifteen years, national pay averaged $46,752 annually, and Indiana’s teachers came close to that average, at $45,791. By 2016, a significant gap had developed: national salaries averaged $58,950, but the average in Indiana was $50,554.
The graph that really “told the tale,” however, took the same time period and adjusted those numbers for inflation. That graph showed that teachers in Indiana have actually sustained a 15.1% pay cut over the past 15 years.
This is worse than the nation as a whole, where teachers have had their pay cut by an average of 3 percent when we adjust for inflation.
And since 2009, teachers in Indiana had their pay cut by 9.7 percent.
The interactive graph was followed by a table showing where each state’s education funding comes from. In Indiana, 9.8% comes from the federal government, 59.1% from the state, and 31.1% from local government.
There’s an old adage to the effect that “You get what you pay for.” Here in Indiana, the General Assembly came close to passing a bill that would have allowed school systems to hire classroom teachers who lack education credentials. As local media reported,
Like the rest of the country, Indiana is struggling to find enough qualified teachers to fill its public school classrooms. Lawmakers have proposed a possible solution: unlicensed teachers.
Right now, traditional public schools can only hire teachers who’ve met the state’s licensing requirements. While there are alternative paths to teaching, the traditional route to a license is a college teacher preparation program, student teaching and licensing exams in content and pedagogy, the actual practice of teaching.
Several recent studies have told us what most Americans already know: pay matters. The scholarship confirms that teacher salaries are linked to employee retention and that higher pay draws smarter people to the field and the classroom.
In most states, teachers are required to obtain a master’s degree. People with such credentials have options beyond the classroom. Very few of them are in a position to forego thousands of dollars annually in order work at jobs they may love, but that’s what we are asking them to do.
We shouldn’t be surprised if teachers in many (if not most) states who want to stay in the classroom follow the lead of West Virginia.
At some point, our slavish devotion to unrealistically-low tax rates has to give way to the need to pay for effective governance and necessary public services, including but not limited to education.
It’s like the old bumper sticker used to say: “Think education is expensive? Try ignorance.”
We’ve been trying ignorance for far too long, and thanks to the Trump Administration, the GOP and the NRA, among many others, we’re learning just how expensive it can be.