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

The president of the Michigan Education Association claims he talked to a teacher with a master’s degree who was eligible for a Bridge card.

Steve Cook, the MEA’s president, said that a teacher he talked to was in his second year and had a master’s degree and made $31,000 a year.

The problem? Publically available data of salaries for each district doesn’t back Cook’s claim. Cook didn’t respond to an email requesting the school district that paid a full-time, second-year teacher with a master’s degree $31,000 a year.

The Michigan Association of School Boards reported in 2011 that a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree had an average salary of $36,798.

Michael Van Beek, education policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, looked at the five public school districts with the lowest average teacher salaries, according to the 2009-10 Michigan Department of Education Bulletin 1014.

Van Beek checked the teacher’s contracts and found salaries for second-year teachers with master’s degrees ranging from $34,385 to $35,140. The five school districts were Eau Claire, Fennville, Colon, Climax-Scott and Mendon.

And many of those teachers won’t stay at those salaries for long with step-increases included in their contracts. For example, a teacher at Eau Clair in his or her second year with a master’s degree made $34,385 and that included a 6-percent step increase from the previous year.

However, in higher paying districts, second-year teachers with a master’s degree can make much more than $31,000 a year. For instance, in Grosse Pointe, a second year teacher with a master’s degree makes $52,265. In River Rouge, that teacher makes $50,522.

Cook wrote that, “in recent years, Lansing politicians have pushed many school employees — maybe your child's teacher — right out of the middle class and into the ranks of the working poor.”

The average teacher’s salary in Michigan is $63,024, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Cook also wrote: “When a professional with a master's degree is eligible for a Bridge Card — Michigan's version of welfare assistance — something has gone terribly wrong."

Van Beek said salary is not the only consideration when determining someone’s poverty status.

“Regardless of their base salary level, the claim that teachers are being pushed into poverty is dubious,” Van Beek said. “People living in poverty don’t have defined-benefit pensions, extravagant health care packages and three months paid vacation.”

Cook’s claim was not the first time an MEA representative has cried poor when discussing teacher’s salaries.

Ric Hogerheide, an MEA UniServe director, claimed that first-year teachers in the Lansing School District were paid below the poverty level in 2011. A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree earned $35,741 in 2009-10. That teacher would be below the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty level if the teacher had a family of eight.

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