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States' Will Play Greater Role in Setting Teacher Pay, Study Says

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If current trends continue, state legislators in coming years will play a major role in setting teachers' salaries, according to a recent study prepared by John Augenblick, a Denver-based education researcher.

In addition, the research reveals that the salaries of classroom teachers are consuming a smaller proportion of overall school-district expenditures now than they were 10 years ago and confirms that average teachers' salaries vary widely among states.

Growing State Role

Historically, states have played a small role in setting the level of teachers' salaries, notes Mr. Augenblick, a former policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, in "Teacher Salaries and the States."

But during the past year several state legislatures have taken a much more active role in setting salaries in order to improve the status of the teaching profession and to equalize salary levels between districts, according to the report.

"In Tennessee, for example," Mr. Augenblick writes, "the state has provided funds for the implementa-tion of a statewide career-ladder plan. ... As teachers move up the ladder, they become eligible for increases in salary. The state pays for the increases caused by career advancement."

Ladder Raises Questions

At least 41 states have begun to develop or test some type of career-ladder or incentive plan for teachers, according to a recent survey by the Southern Regional Education Board. But the proliferation of such plans has raised questions about the fairness of state support, according to Mr. Augenblick.

"If it turns out that the teachers who are the most successful in climbing a career ladder happen to be employed by relatively wealthy school districts, particularly those that pay higher base wages," the report states, "the state will end up allocating funds inefficiently, providing more funds to wealthy districts that can afford to pay for teacher salary increases themselves, and not helping poor districts to attract highly qualified teachers."

Mr. Augenblick recommends that teachers "keep an eye" on this trend to determine whether they are better served by the increased state involvement in setting salary levels. In addition, he suggests that school administrators monitor the state's role to ensure that "there is a balance between the desire to improve the teaching profession and the ability to fund such improvements."

Wide Variation

The report shows a wide variation among the states in teacher salaries. In 1984, average salaries varied from $15,895 in Mississippi--or 72 percent of the national average of $22,019--to $28,877 in Michigan--or 131 percent of the national average.

Mr. Augenblick also reports that teachers' salaries have declined as a percentage of school districts' current operating expenditures during the past 10 years.

In 1974, he reports, teachers' salaries accounted for 48 percent of all current expenditures; by 1984, they accounted for 40.4 percent of expenditures.

"Thus, while the education expenditures were increasing by about 140 percent during the past decade and the number of teachers reel5lmained constant, the share of all current expenditures devoted to teacher salaries was declining," the report states.

Relatively Low Salaries

The report reiterates the widely noted problem that the average salary of all teachers is low relative to those of many other professions.

"Starting salaries are extremely low, between 60 and 80 percent of the starting salary paid to other individuals with a bachelor's degree," according to the report. "And after a few years on the job, the gap widens enormously."

Classroom teachers also receive relatively low salaries compared with other school personnel, the survey found; on average, librarians earn about 6 percent more than teachers, counselors earn about 18 percent more, and assistant principals earn up to 50 percent more.

Copies of the report are available for $8, prepaid, from Augenblick Van de Water and Associates Inc., P.O. Box 20276, Denver, Colo. 80220.

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