Credit: Christopher Victorio/imageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks to her supporters at the official launch rally for her presidential campaign in front of Oakland City Hall at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on Jan. 27, 2019.

At a time when state legislatures are coming under increasing pressure to increase funding for education, presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has come up with a different approach: Have the federal government allocate funds to close the gap between what teachers and other comparable college graduates earn.

“I’m declaring to you that by the end of my first term we will have improved teachers’ salaries so that we close the pay gap,” Harris said in a speech at Texas Southern University in Houston on Saturday. “Because right now, teachers are making over 10 percent less than other college-educated graduates and that gap is about $13,000 a year and I am pledging to you that through the federal resources that are available, we will close that gap.”

Following teacher strikes in Oakland and Los Angeles, teachers have been promised pay increases — in Los Angeles 6 percent over two years and in Oakland 11 percent over four years — but those will still almost certainly not boost teacher salaries, especially those of beginning teachers, to cover the escalating costs of living, especially housing, in those districts.

Harris did not say how her proposal, which she said would represent the largest federal investment in teacher pay ever, would be paid for. But anticipating the obvious question, Harris said, “People are going to say, ‘Well, how’s she gonna pay for it?’ Well, here’s the thing. You understand that your analysis is not how much does it cost. The question is what’s the return on the investment. And on this, the investment will be our future.”

According to her campaign, Harris’ proposal was informed by a report issued last September by the progressive Economic Policy Institute, in collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics. It was written by Lawrence Mishel, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and UC Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto that showed a startling widening of what they called the teacher “wage penalty” over the past several decades.

Their research showed that the mid-1990s marked the start “of a period of sharply eroding teacher pay and an escalating teacher pay penalty.”

On average, teachers in 2017 earned just 76.2 cents on the dollar compared with what other college graduates earn, they found. What’s more, there is no state where teacher pay is equal to or better than that of other college graduates.

The wage gap varies tremendously by state. According to the researcher’s calculations, teachers in California earn 15 percent less than comparable college graduates in the state. In Arizona the gap in 2017 was 36.4 percent.

Allegretto said that even though the wage gap in California is narrower than most other states, “it is a huge gap.”

“If someone told you tomorrow you were going to get paid 15 percent less than other workers with similar qualifications, you wouldn’t be happy,” she said, noting that California’s gap was still about half of what it is in the states with the largest gaps. Arizona tops the list, followed by North Carolina, Oklahoma, Colorado — all states where there were massive strikes and the so-called “RedforEd” movement gained ground.

What’s more, the 15 percent figure is an average that does not take into account the high costs of living in several of the state’s major metropolitan areas. In those areas, college-educated workers in other professions, especially in tech, are paid far more than teachers and the wage gap is likely to be higher than 15 percent.

The federal government only provides just under 10 percent of education funding in California. Traditionally those funds have been for programs like Title 1 funding for low-income children, school nutrition and special education, and not for teacher salaries. But there is a recent precedent during the Great Recession in which the federal government provided massive education funding to underwrite teaching and other education jobs.

Beginning in 2011, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sent close to $100 billion to states for education spending, much of it going to avert teacher layoffs. A 2012 report from the Center for Education Policy concluded that “the ARRA largely met its primary purpose of saving or creating K-12 teaching and other education-related jobs.”

Allegretto said that the wage gap that Harris’ proposal is intended to address helps explain the teacher shortages being experienced in every state. “To pick a career where you will fall farther and farther behind, compared to what other professions you could pursue, will make it hard for young students to choose a teaching career path,” she said. “There should be a lot of thought as to what role the federal government should play.”

Share Article

Comments (6)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. dkel 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    “Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. When government in pursuit of good intentions tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”
    ― Milton Friedman

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Hallelujah!

  2. Todd Maddison 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Where they got the 15% number is a bit of a mystery. The source of this is the EPI’s “Teacher Pay Gap is Wider than Ever” study from 8/9/16, appendix C. The source of those numbers is a bit obscure and difficult to verify – because it’s listed as “author’s analysis of pooled 2011-2015 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group data” – which really gives nothing to refer to as to how they did that … Read More

    Where they got the 15% number is a bit of a mystery. The source of this is the EPI’s “Teacher Pay Gap is Wider than Ever” study from 8/9/16, appendix C.

    The source of those numbers is a bit obscure and difficult to verify – because it’s listed as “author’s analysis of pooled 2011-2015 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group data” – which really gives nothing to refer to as to how they did that analysis.

    In contrast, we can also look at two very simple numbers.

    I’m using 2017 data because that’s the latest year numbers are available in both data sets.

    For teacher wages, the CA State DOE’s annual “J90” report, which shows for 2016-17 the average CA teacher made $79,128/year.

    https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/cs/

    For comparable graduate wages, the US Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey data for 2017 shows the average CA resident with a bachelor’s degree makes $60,940, with a “graduate or professional degree” makes $85,555.

    https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_17_1YR_S1501&prodType=table

    Lastly, in 2016 the CA Legislative Analyst’s Office did a study that found that 42% of teachers have a “masters degree or higher.”

    https://lao.ca.gov/handouts/education/2016/teacher-workforce-012016.pdf

    If we take the bachelor’s number of $60,940 and the higher ed number of $85,555 and adjust that assuming 42% have bachelor’s degrees, that comes out to a comparable average of $75,216.

    Which means the teacher average of $79,128 is 5.20% higher than the average comparably educated California resident.

    These are facts, from reliable sources. What other conclusion is there?

    And of course this analysis does not factor in the fact that teachers typically are contracted to work 1200 hours or less a year (look at your local district’s union contract if you don’t believe that) – compared to 2080 hours for private employees.

    And it also does not factor in the fact that in education, districts are currently required to contribute 16.28% of their salary to their pension plan and the state contributes 2.017% PLUS the 2.5% “purchasing power benefit contribution” rate, for a total of 4.517%.

    Adding the district’s 16.28 to the state’s 4.517% means the employer contributes a total of 20.797% to the employee’s pension. Contrast this to private employees, who typically receive a 3% match on their 401k plus the 6.2% contributed by their employer to Social Security – a total of 9.2%, or about 11.5% less than teachers get in retirement compensation.

    Now, exactly where do we get the idea that teachers are underpaid compared to comparably educated Californians?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Interesting data, Todd. Thanks for the information.
      Regarding pensions, the state’s contribution to CalSTRS is actually more: 9.6 percent of pay in 2018-19; the total of state and district contributions is 25.9 percent of payroll. You must also consider that teachers contribute 10.3 percent of their pay as well, and they do not receive Social Security.

      • Todd Maddison 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

        Thanks for the update on state contributions. I'll have to factor that in. I've been working out some math to try to figure out a comparison between the benefit a teacher gets from their pension vs. what they would get if that same amount of money were put into a combination of Social Security and a private 401K for them. I'll work with that number there. A neighbor and friend of ours, … Read More

        Thanks for the update on state contributions. I’ll have to factor that in. I’ve been working out some math to try to figure out a comparison between the benefit a teacher gets from their pension vs. what they would get if that same amount of money were put into a combination of Social Security and a private 401K for them. I’ll work with that number there.

        A neighbor and friend of ours, a former first-grade teacher who lived three doors from us for 18 years, just passed away, unfortunately only a few years after retiring. Her partner – who she lived with for several decades – has now lost the income they were both counting on “for the rest of their lives” and scrambling a bit.

        What if, instead, she had left him a Roth IRA worth a million dollars or more (the likely net present value of a teacher pension…)? Ditto for the inheritability of that IRA to descendants …

        I think she could have opted to allow her pension (or at least a portion of it) to go to survivors if she chose that, but given he’s a few years younger than she is, her expected lifespan would normally be longer than his (being female), and taking that option results in lower monthly payouts, they chose not to do that. A choice, indeed, but a choice that would not have had to be made if the plan were a private IRA.

        On your note of teacher contributions of 10.25% and lack of Social Security coverage, the current SS contribution rate is 6.2%. According to Vanguard, most employees also contribute about 3% to private retirement plans (understandable since that’s the average company match rate), so private employees comparable number would be 9.2%, which means teachers are contributing 1% more to their retirement than the average private employee.

        I haven’t completed the math, but I suspect that the ultimate worth of the pension they receive far, far outweighs the impact of that extra 1% contribution.

        Thanks again, keep up the great work!

  3. Anne 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Somehow we need to separate the education profession from other careers requiring a bachelor's degree. Educators are on duty 6.5 hours or so on the 186 or so days they work. There is extra pay for attending professional activities outside the 186 day year. Is this scheme really comparable to the 240 or so 8 hour days many other college graduates work? Yes, both groups have work to take … Read More

    Somehow we need to separate the education profession from other careers requiring a bachelor’s degree. Educators are on duty 6.5 hours or so on the 186 or so days they work. There is extra pay for attending professional activities outside the 186 day year. Is this scheme really comparable to the 240 or so 8 hour days many other college graduates work? Yes, both groups have work to take home. When educators work a full calendar year of 8 hour days, it will be appropriate to compare them to other college graduates.