Authored by Nat Malkus for AEIdeas
Public school teacher salaries in the US have not changed much over the past few decades. Overall real spending on public schools has increased by more than half over the same period, so why has teacher pay remained flat? The answer is that while teacher pay hasn’t changed much, the components comprising their total compensation have. Understanding this apparent contradiction provides important insight on how the country compensates roughly 2% of the US labor force.
Teacher pay is the focus of a DataPoint report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) with the catchy title, “Instructional Staff Salary and Benefits Spending: 1991–2011.”* The report looks at national spending on public schools (current expenditures) and on teacher compensation over 20 years using annual fiscal reports from NCES’s Common Core of Data. Total teacher compensation — salaries plus benefits — is worth attention because it amounts to the bulk of the $600 billion spent on public schools annually, or about 55% of current expenditures.
The overall changes in spending are not that compelling, but a more interesting story is found in the changing mix of total compensation going to salaries and benefits. The figure below, excerpted from the report, looks at compensation per instructional staff member over time. It shows that from 1991 to 2001, average spending on both salaries and benefits was basically flat, increasing by a meager 2 and 5% over a decade. From 2001 to 2011, salaries remained flat again, increasing by another 2%. In contrast, average spending on benefits increased by more than 40% during the same time period.
Another way to look at this is the way teachers see it: in the dollars they take home. Over the first decade, teachers saw their pay rise by an average of $838 (in 2011 dollars), while the benefit spending they don’t see directly rose by $725. Surely they would have felt better had they seen more of that increase in their pay, but that was just the prelude to greater changes. In the second decade, pay increased by $1,109 while benefit spending increased by $5,704, more than 5 times as much. These differential increases significantly changed the mix of teacher compensation. In both 1991 and 2001, benefits took about one in five dollars spent on teachers. In 2011, that share had risen to more than one in four.
There is surely a disconnect between how teachers and school districts view compensation when they are sitting across from each other at the collective bargaining table. Teachers would be reasonable to feel they have not seen a real pay increase in a long time. All the while, district officials are still spending more on teachers’ compensation with the lion’s share going to benefits such as health insurance and pension costs. What’s worse, those benefits aren’t necessarily getting better — they are just costing more. The bottom line? More tax dollars are going towards teacher compensation, but teachers aren’t reaping much reward from it. As long as this trend continues, it will be harder and harder for public school districts to attract and retain talented teachers.
Authored by Nat Malkus for AEIdeas
Cross-posted from AEIdeas
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