A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

A local Michigan Education Association representative recently claimed that first-year teachers in the Lansing School District are paid below the poverty line. That could theoretically be true for a teacher just starting his or her career … with a family of eight to support.

A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree in the Lansing School District earned $35,741 in 2009-10. The Michigan Department of Human Services does not calculate poverty levels for Michigan. The Census Bureau  set the poverty level for a family of one at $11,351 in 2010. For a family of two, it was $14,512. It can get as high as $38,388 for a family of eight.  

The poverty comparison was made by Ric Hogerheide, an MEA UniServ Director.

"There are current teachers working full time, first year teachers, that are below the poverty line in Lansing," Hogerheide said.

Hogerheide didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment.

What Hogerheide didn’t mention was how quickly a starting teacher’s salary can increase via “salary steps” which are across-the-board increases that teachers usually get for the first 10 years or more of their career.

For example, a teacher that started in 2006-07 in the Lansing School District with a bachelor’s degree earned $34,521, according to union contracts. That salary would increase 5-percent to $36,261 in 2007-08, then jump 8.8 percent to $39,475 in 2008-09, increase another 6.8 percent to $42,174 in 2009-10 and jump 6.4 percent to $44,900 in 2010-11.

“The MEA claims that schools need to pay for extremely expensive health benefits to attract good teachers, yet at the same time the union perpetuates the myth of the poverty-stricken teacher,” wrote Michael Van Beek, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s education policy director, in an e-mail. “How does this help attract high performers to the profession?”

Michigan school districts have regularly paid some of the nation’s highest teacher salaries.

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Northern Michigan University economist Hugo Eyzaguirre discusses how raising the minimum wage will hurt emerging local economies. See more at "Raising the Minimum Wage, Lowering Opportunity."


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