News Story

Oklahoma Teachers Average $20,000 Less Than Michigan – And Are On Strike

But Michigan teacher pay varies as much as $36,000 by district

Teacher pay rates have become a national conversation with public school employees in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky going on strike in the past week.

Some Michigan school employees have taken to social media — joined by this state’s largest teachers union - to portray teacher pay here as comparable to Oklahoma. But the average Oklahoma teacher earns $42,460 in a school year, or nearly $20,000 a year lower than the average Michigan teacher ($62,280).

How much teachers earn in Michigan varies greatly between school districts.

The Michigan Education Association posted alink on Facebook to a story on the Oklahoma teacher walkout with this comment: “Falling pay and crumbling schools. ... What’s behind teacher protests sweeping the country? Even in Michigan, though the average teacher salary may appear higher than the national average, the constant pay actually declined 11 percent in nine years due to other factors — rising costs of living, higher education, healthcare and retirement.”

Eira McDaniel, a former teacher at Niles Community Schools, posted on the MEA Facebook page: “average is too high for Michigan I retired after 30 years in my career with a Masters degree at 57500”

Niles Community School is located in the southwest corner of the state in Berrien County, home to some of the lowest teaching salaries in Michigan.

McDaniel was correct in stating she retired with a master’s and earned $57,500. That would be the top of the union pay scale at her school district under the 2011-14 union contract in effect when she stopped working. The current contract has raised the salary that McDaniel would have retired at to $61,957.

At the Eau Claire school district, which is about 13 miles north of Niles, the top-of-the-pay scale salary is $62,224.

Those pay rates for high-seniority teachers lag behind Michigan’s statewide average teacher salary of $62,280.

But McDaniel errs in suggesting that Niles and Eau Claire teacher pay levels are typical in Michigan. They are not, although such claims do appear widespread among unionized public school employees.

This is illustrated by a Facebook comment posted by Wayne-Westland Community Schools teacher John Retzer, which was related to a teacher job fair for Oakland County schools.

Retzer commented: “If you know a recent grad looking for a job and want to encourage them to continue with their vows of poverty and humiliation.” Retzer’s salary was $85,204 in 2017-18, according to the state of Michigan.

How much teachers make in Michigan depends on which school district employs them. Teacher salary data shows that even neighboring school districts can have large pay disparities.

Consider public school districts in two other Berrien County districts, Benton Harbor and St. Joseph.

St. Joseph teachers, on average, make about $15,000 more each year than those in the Benton Harbor district.

In 2017, a St. Joseph Public Schools teacher at the top of the union pay scale earned $75,094. At Benton Harbor, teacher pay tops out at $63,200.

The pay gap isn’t explained by district funding levels. In the 2016-17 school year, Benton Harbor Area Schools received a combined $14,292 in state, local and federal dollars per pupil for its general fund, which covers regular operating expenses, including payroll. That is $5,303 more per pupil than the amount St. Joseph Public Schools received in 2016-17, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Lynda Hurlow is the executive director of human resources for the Berrien County Regional Education Service Agency. She said that Benton Harbor teacher salaries reflect a consent agreement the fiscally troubled district entered into with the state of Michigan in 2014 after overspending its budget and having to borrow to pay bills.

Hurlow said Benton Harbor teachers made less because of the school’s financial constraints.

Benton Harbor’s higher funding and lower teacher pay levels predate the consent agreement, though. In 2011, Benton Harbor schools received $2,508 more per pupil in general fund revenue than St. Joseph schools. That year, the average teacher salary was $43,228 in Benton Harbor and $60,387 in St. Joseph, according to state data.

Meanwhile, teachers at Michigan’s largest school districts make far more than their peers in Benton Harbor, Eau Claire or Niles.

A teacher at Troy Public Schools in Oakland County can make $91,250 at the top of the pay scale. In Ann Arbor Public Schools in Washtenaw County, the top salary is $87,721. The top salary at Chippewa Valley Schools in Macomb County is $96,310. is a nonprofit that tracks salaries of nearly every government worker in Michigan and other states. It has salaries of Michigan teachers and other states.

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.