A look at low teacher pay (and new strategy for raising it)

By: - September 10, 2018 5:00 am
education protest flag in front of Arizona capitol

A #RedforEd flag is waved during protest at the Arizona State Capitol complex in Phoenix. Low teacher wages have become a national talking point. “Red for Ed flag” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Over the past year teacher salaries have become a topic of conversation across the country, and unrest among educators led to protests and strikes in West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma. So how do teacher salaries in Nevada compare?

Not so great, according to one new report.

The report, released last week by the Economic Policy Institute, analyzed national data on wages to determine what it calls the “teacher wage penalty” — the percent by which teachers are paid less than other similarly educated and experienced college graduates. Researchers found that in 2017, public school teachers earned 18.7 percent less than their comparable non-teacher peers.

Back in 1996, teachers earned 4.3 percent less than other workers.

And in 1994, the teacher wage penalty was only 1.8 percent.

The report also dispels the idea that lucrative benefit packages adequately compensate for that wage penalty. While public school teachers largely have better benefits packages than comparable workers, data shows that the so-called “benefits advantage” reduces but does not eliminate the wage penalty.

For example, that 18.7 percent teacher wage penalty last year was only offset by a 7.6 percent benefits advantage, resulting in an 11.1 percent overall compensation penalty.

Furthermore, the authors argue that wages as a standalone metric are valid because “only wages can be saved or spent on housing and food and other critical expenses.”

When the data on the wage penalty is broken down by state, the outlook gets even bleaker for many teachers and helps explain why this year’s educator protests have happened where they have.

The teacher wage penalty varies wildly by state — from 3.1 percent in Wyoming to 36.4 percent in Arizona. In 16 states public school teacher wages lagged by more than 25 percent.

Nevada is one of them. Our teacher wage penalty: 26.5 percent.

That’s larger than the wage penalty faced by teachers in West Virginia (21.2 percent) where this year’s teacher strikes and protests began.

None of this information is new or surprising to John Vellardita, president of the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), the union representing the approximately 18,500 teachers within Clark County School District. He says there’s been a “systemic policy failure” on the part of Nevada to address the financial realities of the education system.

“The principal source of funding — the state — does not have as a priority a policy for an ongoing revenue stream to invest in human capital,” he says. “This is the result.”

The vast majority — 88 to 90 percent — of the district’s costs are related to salaries and benefits. CCEA and CCSD have butted heads over starting salaries, pay raises and its health care plan.

Adds Vellardita, “There needs to be a source of funds set aside to pay for the growing costs of licensed professionals, their salaries, their benefits. If that’s not funded, then you wind up fighting over limited resources.”

He says in the last session the legislature committed additional funds with the intent of having it go toward teacher salaries and benefits, but the money wound up being discretionary at the district level.

“When the district doesn’t have what they need, they make judgments where they think those resources should be,” says Vellardita, adding that teacher salaries and benefits wind up paying the price for those decisions.

Rather than continuing to fight with the district, CCEA is taking what Vellardita calls a “profoundly different approach.” The two entitites last month reached a three-year agreement. CCSD agreed to stop appealing its arbitration loss and pay $51 million in previously scheduled salary increases and additional contributions to the health care plan. But additional increases are now contingent upon successfully lobbying the legislature to establish revenue streams that go directly to educator salaries and benefits.

“That’s a first,” says Vellardita. “That’s never been done before.”

The 2019 Legislative Session will begin in February.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.