Report: Higher pay likely won’t stave off teacher shortages

Most Southern states will suffer if teacher resignations jump. Most SREB states already have shortages in math, science, special education, and career and technical education with more and more relying on uncertified or long-term substitute teachers. (File photo)
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Most Southern states will suffer if teacher resignations jump. Most SREB states already have shortages in math, science, special education, and career and technical education with more and more relying on uncertified or long-term substitute teachers. (File photo)

Education group: Rising teacher salaries not on pace to ease shortages in many states

Data released today by the Southern Regional Education Board suggest salary increases likely won’t forestall teacher shortages in the South. The raises are not enough to balance rising health insurance costs, inflation and the demands of teaching during the pandemic, according to SREB.

That conclusion is bolstered by new comprehensive data from the 2019-20 school year from the board’s Teacher Compensation Dashboard, which breaks down average teacher salaries, health insurance costs, retirement benefits and take-home pay in the 16 states that are part of SREB. Often, policymakers focus only on teacher pay, of which the South has made improvements in the last few years, said Megan Boren, who leads SREB’s work with states on teacher workforce issues.

“Even though we are looking at points in time where policymakers did make big investments in teacher raises in the South, we have to look at what that really means when we analyze compensation packages as a whole. Teachers are still underpaid,” she said. “And we are still going to see rises in health care costs in the next years with what has happened with the pandemic.”

The average teacher salary in SREB states was $55,205 in 2019-20, a 3.5% increase from a year earlier but still 16% below the national average of $64,133. The average salary in Georgia is $60,578. The average salary rose by 11.9% over the six-year period through 2019-2020, or about 2% each year. But SREB notes: “Adjusted for inflation, average teacher salaries in SREB states are lower than in the 1980s.”

The SREB dashboard found that teachers’ monthly health insurance premiums — for themselves and their families — rose by 0.8% in 2020-21. SREB said those costs were already hefty — $629 a month on average in the South, up from $624 a month from the previous year, for a total of more than $7,500 over the course of a year.

Teachers often pay more than other professionals in monthly health insurance premiums to cover their families. Family health insurance premiums vary in SREB states, averaging from $115 per month to nearly $1,500 a month in 2020-21. Among the six state health plan options available to teachers in Georgia, the average monthly family premium is $436.93.

The SREB dashboard shows:

On average, teachers in SREB states with 15 years of experience brought home $36,205 in 2019-20 after health insurance, retirement costs and taxes, up from $34,625 a year earlier. Teachers in their 35th year on the job took home $45,921 on average, up from $44,118 a year earlier.

The average take-home pay for teachers in their first year of service in SREB states rose by 4.2% in 2019-20 over the previous year. Teachers in their 15th year saw take-home pay in the region climb by an average of 4.6%, and take-home pay rose by 4.1% for those in their 35th year of teaching. But inflation has risen in recent months to more than 5% nationally.

In her frequent conversations with educators, Boren said teachers report students are struggling to reintegrate into school while still dealing with trauma from the pandemic. And schools are struggling with acute shortages of support staff, including janitors, nurses, cafeteria workers, counselors, and bus drivers.

“We are hearing from teachers that this is the most difficult year they ever had, and they really don’t know if they can continue,” said Boren. “There are not enough support workers, so teachers are having to do even more than they ever had to do with less than they ever had and with far more challenges.”

Most Southern states will suffer if teacher resignations jump. Most SREB states already have shortages in math, science, special education, and career and technical education with more and more relying on uncertified or long-term substitute teachers.

“Teacher shortages aren’t an education issue,” said SREB President Stephen Pruitt said. “They’re a workforce issue, and they ultimately threaten our economy and should be at the top of every leader’s agenda for many years to come.”

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