News Story

Teacher Union Poverty Claims Fail Fact Test

In late March, Mackinac Center for Public Policy Director of Education Policy Michael Van Beek thought the Michigan Education Association had new “talking points.”

At the time, MEA Spokesman Doug Pratt and President Steve Cook took to newspapers to talk about a teacher in his second year with a master’s degree making $31,000 per year.

Since then, the MEA, some teachers and some in the media have joined forces to promote a message of the plight of the financially-strapped teacher.

A teacher’s salary depends on experience and the location of the school district. Compensation can vary at the high end, but the state average for a teacher was $61,560 in 2010-11, according to the state of Michigan.

Teachers in the bigger school districts can make six figures. In 2010-11, 58 teachers in the Troy Public School district made $100,000 or more. A teacher in the Ann Arbor School District made $117,021 in 2010-11.

Starting salaries begin in the mid-$30,000 range, but don’t stay there long.

Yet, some teachers and union officials have made repeated references in the media to teacher’s inability to make a living or to live on food stamps.

In May, Adrian Public Schools’ teacher Sally Oliver was quoted as saying, “Why would a person choose to become a teacher and then remain a teacher when doing so means giving up any chance of making a decent living and supporting a family?”

The average salary of a teacher in the Adrian Public School was $62,838 in 2010-11, according to the state of Michigan. A starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $35,055, according to the union contract.

In late May, Gary Scott, president of Student MEA, a pre-professional organization for people preparing for the teaching profession, was quoted on the MEA’s website as saying, “Who would want to join the teaching profession when their future security has been stolen and robbed? We’re not entering the profession to be rich, but we don’t expect to survive on food stamps either.”

The lowest paid teacher in the state appeared to be a first-year teacher in the Tecumseh School District, according to Mackinac Center research. The district made an agreement with the union to hire first-year teachers at a 10 percent reduction. The starting salary was $33,665 for a starting teacher. That first-year teacher would have made $30,299 for two years after the 10 percent reduction, according to information provided by the district. Those teachers have since had their salaries reinstated to the proper step. But a Tecumseh teacher with a master’s degree would double their starting salary within 11 years by making $60,462.

But even $30,000 a year would be a stretch to live in poverty for someone just starting out in teaching.

That first-year Tecumseh teacher making $30,299 would be at poverty level only in a six-person household, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ poverty guidelines.

Craig Beach, a Rockford Public School teacher, wrote a column for MLive in which he talked about a colleague’s  young daughter’s distain for the teaching profession.  A teacher with Beach’s 23-years of experience and a master’s degree would make $70,189, according to the union contract.

Beach quoted that young woman as complaining about the teacher’s “extremely low pay” in which she said, “I want to eat and have a life.”

Yet Van Beek said he wonders why some teachers think there will be a shortage of teachers due to compensation.

“There are plenty of reasons that contribute to people choosing to be teachers that are unrelated to their level of compensation: desire to make a difference, enjoyment of working with kids, summer vacations, long holiday breaks, etc.,” Van Beek said. “Why is it that suddenly all these teachers who ‘didn’t go into the profession to get rich’ worry that no one will go into the profession any longer?”

The MEA’s Pratt didn’t respond to a requeat a seeking comment.


See also:

Teacher and Spouse Make $140K Per Year, 'Adamant' That Their Children Will 'Never' Be Educators

Reality Check: Is Teacher Pay So Low They Cannot 'Eat and Have a Life'?

Teacher Made Over $80K Per Year, Retires With a Pension of Over $40K — Claims 'Violation of Trust'

MEA President Repeats 'Disingenuous' Claim About Teacher Pay

MEA's Underpaid Teacher Claims Don't Fit With The Facts

Are Teachers With Master's Degrees Forced To Take Food Stamps?

Retired Educator Says He 'Would Not Have Gone Into Teaching' With Proposed Pension Reform

Teacher Upset She Can't Retire at 47

Helpful Facts About Michigan's Public Sector