Teaching Profession

It Will Take More Than $60K Salaries to Improve Morale, Teachers Say

By Libby Stanford & Hayley Hardison — December 22, 2022 7 min read
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A new bill in Congress wants to establish a minimum salary of at least $60,000 for teachers. When Education Week first published a story about this bill, it generated quite a buzz on social media.

Many of the educators who weighed in said teachers will need much more than that to improve morale and keep them in the profession.

The bill, titled the American Teacher Act, would establish four-year federal grants that require state education agencies and school districts to enact legislation that would establish a $60,000 base salary for teachers.

Eighty-five percent of the grants would go directly to school districts while the remaining 15 percent would be sent to state agencies, which would be tasked with making the adjustment to pay structures and provide cost-of-living adjustments to ensure the salaries keep pace with inflation.

Teachers made an average of $61,600 in 2020-21, and they worked an average of 52 hours a week, according to data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey. But those numbers vary based on location, with teachers in Mississippi earning an average of $46,862 in 2020-21 compared with their peers in New York, who earned $90,222 on average that year.

Rep. Federica Wilson, D-Fla., who introduced the bill Dec. 14, believes a minimum salary of $60,000 would help raise teacher morale and the status of the profession, ultimately fixing teacher shortages across the country. Congress has not yet discussed the bill, and it will require bipartisan support to pass, which could be difficult to achieve.

The bill has received significant support from education advocates from more than 50 organizations, including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, endorsing it. They say the bill is an important step forward in improving the profession.

But educators who shared their opinions about the bill on EdWeek’s social media channels argue it’ll take a lot more than $60,000 to turn the tide on the teaching profession.

Here’s what they had to say.

Other employee benefits still matter

While they would be grateful for a raise in pay, some educators pointed out that other employee benefits, like health care, retirement, and professional-development opportunities, also need consideration.

“Now let’s fund employer-paid healthcare for all educators and we will be at a starting point!”

Glynis Mason, M. Ed.

“Let’s give teachers [the] ability to collect their social security and not lose [a] portion of their retirement!!”

Cindy Avery Brown

“I think we should pay them more, but have 20 days of PD that they work also. Making their contract 200 days with 180 days for instruction and 20 days of targeted PD that they don’t have to get subs for would be beneficial, plus districts could really plan out this targeted training. A professional with a Masters degree should be making at least $100k.”

Kari Lewinsohn, PhD

“Absolutely but this is the salary-benefits above and beyond! Carrying insurance for a family of 4 on the tier necessary for our needs I bring home nearly 20K less than my contract.”

Holli Blair

It shouldn’t be a federal decision

A few educators felt that the decision of teacher pay should be a local one, worrying that mandates from the federal government would cause more problems for schools.

“Leave the feds out of it. They need not tinker in states’ rights to govern.”

Tonya Flores Cruz

“As a teacher - I have a soft spot in my heart for teachers. With that being said, the federal government mandating things more and more is never the answer. What implications will this have on class sizes and how many people can work at a school? On local and federal taxes? I think just because something sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean everyone should jump on it ... We need to be open to the idea that while something may sound nice, it may have unintended consequences. From what I have seen of federal bills, I think it’s best for the federal government to just not get involved and stop telling people what and how to do things. Allow communities and localities to problem solve, without creating more red tape.”

Windi Hicken

$60,000 won’t cut it in many places

Many educators worried $60,000 is not enough for teachers in more expensive cities, like New York and San Francisco, to make ends meet. In an email to Education Week, Wilson made clear that the $60,000 is meant to be a floor rather than a ceiling, and that states are welcome to go above that number.

“I think the minimum should be adjusted by regional cost of living. $60,000 isn’t enough to live on a single salary without stress in the NJ/NY/CT tri-state area. A professional should be able to live on their salary.”

Bridget Looney, PhD

“Yes, AND, if you teach in underserved urban districts, add more to the base pay”

Eric Redwine

“Whoa! Shouldn’t this be more like a sliding scale depending on how schools are funded by their states and local communities? Will there be legislation to ensure all schools receive enough money from their state to fund this adequately? $60K can’t sustain big city life like in NYC but here in South Carolina where cost of living is low, $60K is multi-year experienced, masters degree range.”

Lisa Cole, MBA

Salaries should reflect experience and education

Some educators worried that the bill wouldn’t account for years of teaching experience and education levels. The exact language of the bill has not yet been published on the congressional database. However, Wilson emphasized that the $60,000 is a starting salary, and the states that receive the grant would be required to adjust salary structures so the increase in starting salary would be reflected in the pay of more experienced teachers too.

“Will this adjustment include teachers with years of experience? $60K is a nice starting point, but salaries for those who have longevity in teaching don’t match the experience teachers have. Teachers in my area with 36+ years of experience as I have only earn about $13,000-$14,000 above the base salary...that’s approximately $500 per year of experience. I’ve stayed because I love teaching and learning. (One school district starts at $62,000. The highest salary after 39+ years is just over $81K.) Graduate degrees are pretty much a necessity to bump up the base, but they don’t add but about $1,000 to the base salary, so around $100 more per month, which teachers easily spend on their classrooms. Once teachers are in the classrooms, they need to stay in the classrooms. Paying teachers to start is great...pay teachers to STAY as well.”

Shari Hiltbrand, Ph D.

“This is my 26th year of working for the same school district, and I still make less than $60K per year.”

Eric Oestmann

“I am all for this as long as those who are currently teaching and have been teaching for years get a commensurate pay increase.”

April Solms

“I think it’s a start. I believe there should be salary lane reciprocity. I’ve been in education for 16 years but had to go back to 6 years when I went to a new district. If I leave, I’ll have to go back to 4-6 years of experience in most cases (around a 20k pay cut).”

Amy Flynn, M.A.Ed.

Don’t forget about paraeducators

One educator said they were hopeful that the bill would also reflect pay raises for paraeducators.

“I would hope that Paras base salaries are part of this bill. Their pay is at the bottom, where they definitely need to work other jobs. Plus, they often are seen as seasonal employees, so they receive no retirement benefits, and no salaries over the summer, unless they work summer school. IEPs require many students to have the support of Paras. But we also see a shortage here!”

Hartzog Kevin

Even new teachers are worth more than $60,000

A few educators felt the minimum of $60,000 is too low and doesn’t reflect the value of teachers’ work.

“$60k is literally the bare minimum for what educators have to do to promote the success of children. Many educators I know work multiple jobs just to make it. Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the country as they build the foundation for learning. Professional athletes are paid hundreds of thousands to millions, yet we second guess paying educators 60k!? Make it make sense🙃”

Samantha A. Bookman

“Teachers should be paid at a starting salary of $150k.”

Jennifer Merry

“It should be $80,000… that’s the salary one needs to qualify for a home mortgage in today’s current market.”

Latosha M.

Pay raises won’t make the other problems with the teaching profession disappear

Educators pointed out that structural issues like poor school funding, student behavioral issues, and an overall lack of respect for the profession aren’t going to go away with a $60,000 minimum salary.

“How will this help with poor school funding, bad admins, violent students, etc? Don’t know that this will change much.”

Rachel Wright

“... I don’t need $60k a year, I need less stress, supportive parents, administrators and realistic respectful expectations! We are doing all we can, it takes a village and we are not miracle workers!! Parents need to step up, the department of education needs to step up and REAL conversation about education need to be had”

Toni Heriot

“Salary is only a part of the problem. A larger part of the problem is a lack of respect for the occupation. Judging by the comments I’m reading here, we’ve got a lot of work to do to improve this.”

Helena Faiello-Simpson

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