Education Opinion

Policy Change Alert: But No Overtime Pay for Teachers

By Megan M. Allen — May 18, 2016 3 min read
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Policy change alert!

I got REALLY excited when I heard about the federal changes in overtime pay with the Obama’s new rules for the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Drafted in 1932 and passed into law in 1938, it is considered one of the most important parts of the New Deal and a huge step in workers’ rights (ex: 40 hour work weeks, child labor protections, and minimum wage).

Fast forward to May 17, 2016 (yesterday!). There was some huge news from the Oval Office. The threshold salary for overtime pay in FLSA was moving up (insert LOUD cheer here!). The new threshold to receive overtime pay as a salaried employee is going to be just over $47,000 as of December 1, 2016.

So my mind immediately jumped to teachers and educators. Would we qualify for overtime pay? How does this apply to education?

I read a quote from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, where she stated:

“For thousands of AFT members who work long hours for their patients and students without receiving fair overtime, including public employees, nurses and administrative workers in schools and colleges, their pay will finally reflect their hard work.” (From //www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/18/obama-administration-releases-final-rules-overtime-pay-including-some-exemptions)

My heart immediately sank as I noticed there was nothing said about teachers. Uh-oh.

So I did a little research and here is a brief overview of my layperson’s understanding, along with resources for you to check out on your own:

  • Doctors, lawyers, and teachers are exempt. This are classified as “learned professions” and also include dentists, engineers, architects, and accountants to name a few. This is “professionally exempt work.” Professionally exempt work means:
Work which is predominantly intellectual, requires specialized education, and involves the exercise of discretion and judgment. Professionally exempt workers must have education beyond high school, and usually beyond college, in fields that are distinguished from (more "academic" than) the mechanical arts or skilled trades. Advanced degrees are the most common measure of this, but are not absolutely necessary if an employee has attained a similar level of advanced education through other means (and perform essentially the same kind of work as similar employees who do have advanced degrees)." (From //www.flsa.com/coverage.html)

  • There doesn’t seem to be a state where beginning teachers meet that threshold. New Jersey is the closest at about $44,000 (//www.nea.org/home/38465.htm). And almost every new teacher works WAY over 40 hours a week. These typically are the teachers who have to stay late because they are building up their toolkit of lessons, learning how to give effective feedback, figuring out classroom systems, and are not working at their most efficient rate yet.

Being lumped into the other “learned professions.” This makes me smile, because educators are “learned professionals,” and we do spend so much of our time in intellectual capacities. It’s like seeing someone state in black and white ink that we are a true profession, and that feeling comes rarely in education. But how do our salaries compare to the other “learned professions?” Here’s a breakdown:

And now, enter the drumroll...the average teacher salary?

Average teacher salary: $56,000 (National Council on Education Statistics), with the average starting salary at $36,000.

How is our profession lumped into those above when we are considering money and salary? To me, the educator salary is not even close. And I also understand the arguments about tremendously large student loan pay offs for doctors, for example. But I also know a LOT of teachers who have a lot of student debt...at my campus, tuition and fees for all students, including those in teacher education, are close to $44,000 annually (US News and World Report).

So my overall take-away: Teachers will not (yet) get overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week (and so many teachers do!), even if they make a salary under the FLSA threshold. This seems to be the one case that we are treated as professionals, as learned professionals...but it does not seem to be beneficial.

Thoughts? Questions? Or other perspectives? I’d love to think this through with you.

PS-This has some interesting repercussions for higher education. Read more here from Inside Higher Ed, including how they are defining many professors as teachers, so they will be exempt from overtime pay as well.

Photo courtesy of Tom Blackwell.

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.