News Story

Media Repeats Unexamined Teachers Union Claims At Own Risk

Average Grand Rapids teacher pay $54,844, not $40,000 or less

For years, officials of public education unions have made claims in media reports about large classes. The claims often go unchallenged. They may be accompanied by claims about a teacher shortage — which also often go unexamined — and a narrative about how tough working conditions are for public school teachers.

A recent example came from the head of the Grand Rapids Education Association, who made a claim to the Grand Valley State University Lanthorn.

The newspaper reported:

“Grand Rapids Education Association (GREA) President Mary Bouwense believes that a lot of the issues surrounding K-12 education in Michigan is due to the teacher shortage. Teachers are making less and less money – not usually making over $40,000. Because of this, less people are going into the field.”

“We are short on teachers, and what it’s doing is it’s making really large class sizes and it’s a drain on the resources,” Bouwense told the Grand Valley State University student newspaper. “I mean, when you enroll your child in kindergarten and there’s 30 kids in there, that’s just unacceptable. Then we’ve got to have them reading by January, and by third grade they have to be proficient. But when you’ve got one adult trying to teach 30 kids who have never been in school before, it’s difficult – it’s malpractice, it’s not the right thing for kids.”

These claims do not stand up to scrutiny.

The claim that Grand Rapids teachers are “making less and less money – not usually making over $40,000,” is not accurate.

Teachers in the district are covered by a union contract that pays teachers based on years of experience and level of education attained. A teacher with up to three years of experience who has a bachelor's degree would earn a base salary of $38,000. If a teacher with three years of service or less had a master's degree, they would earn $41,000. According to the state of Michigan, just 28% (351 of the 1,236 teachers) had three years of service or less within the district in 2016-17, the most recent year data is available. That means 72% of the teachers made $42,000 or more. The average salary in the school district was $54,844 in 2017-18, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

And Bouwense’s claim of “really large class sizes” is challenged by the actual data on class sizes as provided by the Grand Rapids school district in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The data covered 1,678 classes, with an average class size of 19.65 students. The median class size was 21 students.

There were 223 classes that had 30 or more students. That was 13% of the total number of classes, but many of these were physical education classes. Another 179 classes consisted of just one student and so were not included in this analysis.

Editor's note: The breakdown of years of service for Grand Rapids teachers was added to this story.