“Extremely low pay” was cited at a U.S. Senate hearing as the leading cause of teacher shortages

WASHINGTON — The only reason John Arthur can be a public school teacher is because his wife makes significantly more than he does.

Arthur – Utah’s 2021 Teacher of the Year – testified Thursday during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the challenges facing public school teachers.

Arthur, who is also a member of the National Education Association and is National Board Certified, cited pay as the main reason both teachers and parents who don’t want their children to become teachers leave their jobs.

“The No. 1 solution to the problems we face has to be to raise teacher pay,” said Arthur, who teaches at Meadowlark Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Gemayel Keyes, a teacher at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School in Philadelphia, told the committee that even as an educator, he still works an extra part-time job.

The special education teacher has spent most of his career in education as a paraprofessional. Upon assuming this position, the starting annual salary was $16,000 with a maximum of $30,000.

“It’s still pretty much the same,” he said.

Minimum teacher salary

Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent from the state of Vermont, presented the bill in March 2023, which would mean annual basic salary $60,000 for public elementary and secondary school teachers.

“We understand that the children and young people of this country are our future and in fact… there is nothing more important we can do to ensure that all of our young people receive a high-quality education, and yet for decades public schools have seen teachers overworked, underpaid, lacking staff and, most importantly, they were underappreciated,” Sanders said in opening remarks.

“Compared to many other professions, public school teachers are at greater risk of experiencing high levels of anxiety, stress and burnout, which have only been made worse by the pandemic,” he said.

Sanders stated that 44% of public school teachers leave the profession within five years, citing the “very low wages teachers receive” as one of the main reasons for the massive teacher shortage in the US.

According to the Institute’s October report, in the 2023–24 school year, as many as 86% of K-12 public schools in the country documented challenges related to hiring teachers. National Center for Education Statistics.

Maryland sets a minimum of $60,000

However, a minimum annual teacher salary of $60,000 is not far off in every state.

In Maryland, Maryland’s Future Plan Raises starting salary for teachers to $60,000 per year by July 2026.

William E. Kirwan, vice president of the Maryland Board of Accountability and Implementation, said the multi-year comprehensive plan adopted in 2021 by the Maryland General Assembly “addresses all aspects of children’s education from birth through high school graduation, including primarily enrollment, retaining and rewarding high-quality teachers.”

Kirwan stated that “The plan’s principle regarding teacher compensation is that teachers, as professionals, should be paid at the same level as other professionals requiring a similar level of education, such as architects and CPAs.”

“The Allocation Problem”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, a ranking member of the committee, called Democrats’ solution to create a federal minimum wage for teachers “a laudable goal.”

However, he noted that “the federal government dictating how states spend money does not address the root cause why teachers struggle to teach in the classroom.”

“More mandates and funding cannot be the only answer we can think of. We must examine the broken policies that got us here and find solutions that can be improved,” the Louisiana Republican said.

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Nicole Neily, president and founder of Parents Defending Education, a parent rights group, argued that “schools don’t have a resource problem” but rather an “allocation issue.”

“There is a saying: ‘Don’t tell me what your priorities are, show me what you spend your money on and I’ll tell you what they are.’ “Education leaders routinely choose to spend money on programs and staff that do not directly benefit students,” Neily said.

Neily pointed to the 2021 report Heritage Foundation, which found that “scores on standardized tests show that achievement gaps are widening over time in the districts where (diversity officers) serve.” Such staff often encourage diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in schools.

Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that “higher pay does not reduce the burden we place on teachers or lengthen their workday.”

“Definitely raise teacher pay, but don’t assume it will solve teacher shortages or keep good teachers in the classroom. Poor training, deteriorating classroom conditions, shoddy curriculum and increasing demands have made an already demanding job almost impossible to do well and sustainably,” he added.

Sen. Bob Casey (R-Pa.) asked Keyes what resources he needed “that you believe are necessary both as an educator and as a leader to ensure that all students, especially students with disabilities, are successful?”

Keyes said better training, more targeted training “specific to the populations we work with, whether it’s autism, whether it’s a child with multiple disabilities, whether it’s someone who needs learning support, there needs to be better targeted training, not only for teachers but also for paraprofessional staff.”

He added that teachers are often “not very experienced” and do not receive effective training.

Casey asked what the federal government could do to encourage teacher development at the local level.

“Eliminating the debt that comes with going back to school,” Keyes replied. “Again, when you think about paraprofessionals, remember that they are some of the lowest paid in education. They still have to survive here in the world while trying to get to the next level in their career.

Kim Lyons of the Capital-Star staff contributed.

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