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Study Shows Growing Teacher Wage Gap

The minimum pay for Pennsylvania teachers has not been raised since 1988. (Alexey Rumyantsev/Adobe Stock)
The minimum pay for Pennsylvania teachers has not been raised since 1988. (Alexey Rumyantsev/Adobe Stock)
May 6, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. – There's a growing teacher shortage in the Keystone State, and a new study says raising teacher salaries could help alleviate the problem.

A new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute shows Pennsylvania teachers are paid an average of 13.5% less than similar college graduates in other fields.

According to Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, the minimum pay for teachers in the state hasn't changed since 1988 when it was set at just $18,500 – about what a fast food worker makes today.

"Everybody deserves a living wage, including fast food workers,” Herzenberg stresses. “But by underpaying teachers, we're not only hurting teachers, we're hurting students, our education system and our state's economy in the long run."

In his 2019 budget address, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed raising the minimum teacher salary to $45,000 a year.

Education advocates are asking the General Assembly to include that raise in the state budget, which is due by June 30.

Many school districts in the state already pay their teachers $45,000 a year or more. But Herzenberg points out that more than 3,000 teachers still don't make that much.

"The ones that don't are often in rural areas and some cities, and the increase in pay would go to the places where the economy needs a boost,” he states. “So, this is good for teachers, good for students and good for local economies."

A recent poll indicates two-thirds of likely voters in Pennsylvania support raising the minimum teacher salary.

Low pay forces many educators to leave teaching in mid-career, leading to shortages of experienced teachers and higher concentrations of uncertified teachers, especially in poorer school districts.

Herzenberg adds there can be other consequences.

"Low teacher pay is why we've seen a wave of teacher strikes across the country,” he points out. “Too many teachers, including in Pennsylvania, now have to take two jobs to make ends meet. That's not fair to teachers and it's not fair to students."

Herzenberg says raising the minimum pay to $45,000 a year would help attract and retain qualified teachers across the state.

Disclosure: Keystone Research Center, Inc. contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA