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The teacher pay gap is worsening across the country, including in Florida

Students at their desks with a teacher in the background
Pasco County Schools
A teacher and class in Pasco County

State level data shows that Florida teachers are being paid 20.4% less than other college-educated workers.

Teacher pay is falling farther behind the wages of other college-educated professionals, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Public school teacher salaries have fallen below the salaries of non-teaching professions for decades, but new data shows the gap is wider than ever before. Data from the report indicate that, nationwide, teachers made 26.4% less than other similarly educated professionals in 2022, a significant increase from the 6.1% gap in pay in 1996.

In other terms, teachers earned 73.6 cents, on average, for every dollar that other professionals made.

State level data shows Florida teachers are being paid 20.4% less than other college-educated workers, putting the state towards the middle of the list. States with the starkest pay disparities for their teachers include Colorado, Arizona and Virginia.

map showing teacher pay
Economic Policy Institute
The Economic Policy Institute's 2023 report shows that teacher pay has suffered a sharp decline compared with the pay of other college-educated workers.

Updates from the analysis also illustrate the major hit teacher wages took from record high inflation between 2021 and 2022.

The report states: The inflation-adjusted weekly wages of public school teachers decreased by $128 from 2021 to 2022, from $1,457 to $1,329 (in 2022 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of other college graduates stayed about the same from $2,170 to $2,167 over the same period.

graph showing teacher pay disparity
Economic Policy Institute
The Economic Policy Institute report shows how inflation knocked down teacher pay significantly.

Sylvia Allegretto, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute who authored the report, described teacher pay as a "deep problem that needs a deep solution."

"The teacher has the future of the country in front of them every day, so I think this is of enormous importance, and I think we're at a critical point," said Allegretto. "Teacher pay would have to not only match future inflation but also be above and beyond that to start clawing back this big pay hit that they took in 2022."

But that can't be done without a concerted effort and major investments towards public education, said Allegretto. She added that raising wages for public school teachers is a challenge because of the way salaries are funded and negotiated, resulting in only nominal pay increases over the years.

"Teacher pay cannot respond that quickly when it comes to inflation, because it has to do with budgets, taxes and collective bargaining agreements for many teachers," said Allegretto.

But the report highlighted dire consequences if compensation falls further behind and workloads increase: teaching will become less appealing to college graduates, worsening shortages in some states like Florida.

"You have to wonder how we're going to attract the best and the brightest in the country into the teaching profession," said Allegretto.

Legislation passed in 2022 raised pay for first-year teachers to $47,500, boosting Florida's ranking for starting salaries to 16. However, on a scale that ranked average teacher salaries across the U.S., the state fell near the bottom at 48.

The National Education Association report, which published the ranking, also highlighted how teachers earn 25% more in states with teachers unions with collective bargaining power.

"The idea of more teachers being in unions and stronger unions, and the right to collectively bargain is definitely going to be part of the answer," said Allegretto.

However, teachers unions in Florida have pointed to legislation passed this year that they said aimed to erode union power. HB 256 prohibited union dues from being automatically deducted from employee paychecks, meaning union members will have to take extra steps to ensure their membership is renewed.

The law also raised the membership threshold from 50% to 60% of total instructional employees in order to be certified.

Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, said salaries are at the heart of teacher retention as other pressures mount.

"People are burned out. They're tired of the culture," said Peace. "People are just getting tired of all of the things that they're being asked to do without the respect and the dignity of livable wages."

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
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