Most Teacher Salaries Are Increasing

According to the best data available on teacher pay

Michigan Radio has released a series of stories on teacher pay that it claims is an in-depth look at teacher compensation. But the NPR affiliate didn’t use actual data on teacher salaries available on public databases. Instead, it used surveys of teachers, who responded with numbers on their compensation. The survey is based on 390 teachers across 15 districts. There are 97,000 public school teachers in Michigan.

The headline on one of the Michigan Radio stories read: “New teacher pay stagnant, low in Michigan.”

That story used salary information from 2011-12, which is four years older than currently available information.

The public salary database has salaries for about 97,000 teachers from about 540 school districts.

“We used the survey to cultivate sources from around the state, get qualitative data and identify trends behind the numbers,” said Michigan Radio reporter Jennifer Guerra. “This was not intended to be used as a scientific survey, nor did we use it as such in our series. Yes, you can look up salary schedules and average teacher pay and FOIA salary info, but that was not the goal of this series. Our aim with this series is to help readers understand what goes into teacher pay broadly speaking, how it’s changed over time, and also look at the links between teacher pay and retention.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential has been reporting on teacher salaries for two years. CapCon has used salary information obtained from individual school districts as far back as five years ago as well as salary information obtained from the state of Michigan.

CapCon looked at compensation for new teachers and found that their salaries are far from stagnant.

CapCon requested information from five public school districts for teachers who started their careers in 2013-14 and then tracked their salaries in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

It tracked 160 teachers from five school districts: Lansing, Warren, Walled Lake, Utica and Troy. Of those teachers, the lowest starting salary was $31,847 in 2013-14, which jumped to $45,783 in 2015-16. But that sequence can be misleading. The reason that particular first-year salary was so low is that some of the teachers didn’t work a full year in 2013-14.

The key point is that the salaries in the second year, 2014-15, increased to $44,160 and then went up to $45,783 in 2015-16.

That goes against what Michigan public school administrators have been claiming in the media. For example, State Superintendent Brian Whiston said in February that some teachers start teaching with a salary of $28,000 a year. The Michigan Department of Education backed up that claim by stating there were three school districts (Nottawa Community School, Alba Public School and Wells Township School) that had starting salaries in union contracts at less than $29,000 a year. But those three school districts combined to employ a total of 25 full-time teachers, a tiny portion of all teachers in the state. The experience in those districts is also far from what is happening in larger school districts.

To get a fair look at teacher compensation, each school district has to be analyzed separately, since so many variables play into what a teacher can earn.

Not all teachers in school districts are seeing healthy salary increases. For example, teachers in Lansing who started in 2013-14 didn’t fare nearly as well as new hires in the other four school districts that were analyzed. One Lansing teacher started 2013-14 with a $27,266 salary. That salary jumped to $40,988 in 2014-15 but declined to $40,064 in 2015-16. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the teacher took a pay cut. Instead, it’s far more likely the teacher didn’t get as big a bonus as the previous year. It’s also possible that the teacher earned more the previous year by picking up additional responsibilities that are due extra pay under the union contract.

At Utica Community Schools, several new teachers started their career with a salary of $32,758 in 2013-14, saw a jump to $40,111 in 2014-15, and then received another increase to $43,443. That was a 33 percent increase over two years — hardly a stagnant salary.

At Troy School District, several new teachers had a salary of $34,943 in 2013-14. In their second year, their salary increased to $44,586. In the third year, there was greater variance in their salaries. Some increased to $47,869 (a 37 percent increase over two years) while others saw a much more significant increase to $50,337 (a 44 percent increase over two years.)

Young teachers can do quite well in terms of compensation depending on what school district they are working for.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.