New report shows Michigan lagging on educator salaries

As Michigan’s budget process enters the final stretch, lawmakers must maintain our state’s momentum by passing an education budget that prioritizes increasing educator compensation so we can provide every student with trained, qualified and caring school employees.

Thanks to the bipartisan support from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature, Michigan has passed record levels of funding for school districts in recent years. Many have used this funding to directly support students by increasing educators’ compensation so they can keep great teachers and support staff on the job.

While we’ve made some progress increasing wages to address the educator shortage, a new report from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) shows we still have work left to counter decades of state disinvestment in our local schools.

According to the EPIC report, the average teacher’s salary has plummeted by about $17,000 over the past two decades, adjusted for inflation. This stark decline in real wages directly affects the quality of education our students receive, exacerbating the ongoing struggle many Michigan schools face in filling crucial positions.

The report also notes the average starting salary for Michigan teachers is $38,963, placing us 39th in the nation. The starting pay for teachers is 18% lower than the average starting salary for other college graduates. When you’re just starting out, that’s a massive gap, especially considering the increasing cost of rent, food and other essentials.

Because of low wages, many early-career educators are changing schools or districts in search of higher pay — or even leaving the profession altogether. The report found that from fall 2021 to fall 2022, nearly half of all teachers with less than five years of experience changed schools, while about 24% changed school districts. By the end of the one-year observation period, about 10% of those newer teachers were no longer teaching at any Michigan public school.

Those teachers who do stick around aren’t able to close the salary gap with their similarly educated peers in other professions; in fact, the salary gap actually grows from 18% for new teachers to 20.7% for the average veteran teacher, according to the report.

We cannot accept a status quo that keeps Michigan near the bottom in educator pay — especially if we want to create a trained and educated workforce that attracts new jobs and investments.

For over a decade, the state has taken 3% out of educators’ paychecks to pay down debt on the retiree health system. That debt has now been paid in full, thanks in large part to the sacrifices of public school employees.

That’s why the Michigan Education Association and other leading education groups — representing both labor and management — favor a proposal to use the $670 million previously earmarked for paying down the now-cleared debt to instead support student learning and educator compensation. This would return an average of $500 per pupil to school districts, and educators would no longer be required to pay the 3% contributions.

We also support education budget proposals from the governor, House and Senate to provide funding for universal free school meals, mental health support for students, student debt relief for educators and increased access to preschool and community college.

Michigan is making progress toward our goal of ensuring every student has a great teacher leading their classroom and amazing support staff throughout their school. But as the EPIC report demonstrates, we still have a long way to go.

To address the educator shortage and ensure our students receive the best education possible, state and local leaders should make it a priority to increase educators’ pay and restore respect to the education profession.

RELATED: Learn more about the state budget process and how you can raise your voice in support of the budget our students and educators need.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

(Posted as submitted to Detroit News)

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