To those paying attention, the recent strikes for higher teachers’ pay in West Virginia and Oklahoma are a harbinger of things to come. Youcan attribute the strikes to the stinginess of the states’ political leaders. After all, average annual teachers’ salaries in these states ranked, respectively, 49th-lowest (Oklahoma at $45,276) and 48th-lowest (West Virginia, $45,622) in 2016, reports the National Education Association. But that’s the superficial explanation. The deeper cause is that teachers — and schools — are competing with the elderly for scarce funds.
Teachers are paid less than comparable workers with similar education levels, an Economic Policy Institute analysis of federal data shows. Since 1996, teachers’ weekly wages have decreased $30 per week to $1,092 in 2015, while all college graduates’ average weekly wages have increased $124 to reach $1,416. Those numbers are adjusted for inflation. However, non-wage benefits as a share of total compensation are more important for teachers than for other professionals. Non-wage benefits can include prepaid insurance premiums and pensions.
Over a nine year period, pension funding in the state’s budget increased from $624 million in 2008 to $1.5 billion in 2017. Such increases divert funds from other government priorities such as public education, or force the government to take on more debt through increased deficit spending, thereby worsening the state’s financial position even further.
Challenging the conventional wisdom about collective bargaining, a new study finds that requiring school districts to bargain with teachers’ unions did not actually improve teacher pay. Thirty-three states passed mandatory collective bargaining laws since the 1960s. Those states do typically have higher teacher salaries and higher per-pupil education spending, but they already did so “well before the emergence of collective bargaining rights or modern teacher unions,” the study found.
As teachers in West Virginia noisily celebrated a 5 percent raise that ended their nine-day walkout, momentum was building elsewhere for similar protests over pay and benefits for the nation’s public school teachers.
To explore this possibility, we studied retirement plans and surveyed charter schools in five states with such flexibility: Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, and Michigan. We find a growing number of schools, especially those run by management organizations, are choosing to opt out of state pension plans. In lieu of standard plans, charters are providing various, more portable defined-contribution options and incentives such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, potentially providing a new way to ensure that teachers’ retirements are secure. In interviews, charter operators detail their reasons for these choices, providing important context to a retirement challenge that is unlikely to be resolved without significant action.
As the two major national teachers’ unions brace for a U.S. Supreme Court case that could cause a major blow to their membership numbers and revenue, they laid out their arguments in support of public-sector workers being mandated to pay monthly union fees.
This is a quick primer of 12 groundbreaking education storylines we’ll be following in the new year, including: teachers unions, high school graduation rates, higher education debates, personalized learning, New Orlean’s next chapter, NYC’s turnaround plans, Illinois’ pension crisis and more.
Memphis leaders have been grappling for years with how to cut a $1 billion-plus liability for retiree benefits through Shelby County Schools. But even as they’ve put options on the table, they’ve never settled on a sure-fire reduction plan. Now school board members are exploring one extreme option anew: eliminating all retiree benefits for employees hired after January of 2018.
Over the next few years, they must absorb much higher pension payments and likely cuts in the federal budget, while relying on state funding that, though still rising, isn’t keeping pace with increasing costs.