Contrary to popular belief, study shows public school teachers make much more than their private counterparts

The notion that public school teachers are at a financial disadvantage relative to their private-sector counterparts has been debunked in a new study by Vermont-based think tank Campaign for Vermont.

On average, public-sector teachers make substantially more in both salary and benefits than their independent school colleagues.

Campaign for Vermont

“You see that not only are benefits packages for public employees generally pretty generous, so are our compensation,” Campaign for Vermont Executive Director Ben Kinsley said during an online meeting with media and education policy representatives Wednesday afternoon.

“Hourly wages for private industry is $25.89 an hour on average in the U.S. and $33.09 on average for state and local workers,” he said.

The full 13-page report can be read here

Kinsley shared some data that initially looks positive. Vermont teachers are on average paid competitively with most of the nation. The national average salary for all teachers public and private in the U.S. is $61,730, and Vermont pays its teachers just below that at an average of $61,027. Only 15 states pay their teachers better than in Vermont.

The catch is, Vermont teachers generally have fewer children per classroom.

“Some of the states higher up in terms of compensation than us also have much larger student-teacher ratios, so Vermont has the lowest student-teacher ratio in the country,” he said. “You can look at a state like California, which is more like 25-1 student-teacher ratio compared to Vermont’s 10.5 student-teacher ratio.”

Also in attendance was David Coates, a member of the Vermont Business Roundtable, who has been an outspoken critic of Vermont’s public pension crisis. He commented on “the myth” that Vermont public school teachers are in poor economic status.

“At the end of the day, everyone in the state of Vermont and particularly those in Montpelier have to understand that it is exactly a myth when the union representatives get up there and they talk about the fact that they are underpaid versus the private sector and that’s the reason that their benefits are so generous,” Coates said. “ … This has been going on for many, many years.”

Other takeaways from the report include wages are on average $12,000 more than the private sector for teachers, and the retirement income is “significantly higher” as well. The authors conclude “extraordinary benefits may not be necessary,” and warn “[this situation is] going to get worse before it gets better.”

Kinsley said taking benefits away from teachers who are nearing retirement would be unwise. Instead, it would be better to focus on lightening the promises towards new incoming teachers.

Asked if another goal might be to raise up the pay in the private sector as well to help bridge the gap, Kinsley said data from 2020 does indicate a sudden rise in pay in the private sector, but that the explanation is unclear. He further noted that due to the shutdown economy of 2020, much of the data concerning economics in education is very skewed. The report therefore does not use 2020 data.

“2020 into 2021, the numbers get really convoluted,” he said.

Over the past two years schools have seen a recent trend of students leaving public schools in favor of homeschooling or private schools. Kinsley said any time students leave the public school system, that’s going to affect the cost-per-student, which is already high in Vermont. The cost per student was already reported at over $22,000 per student in Vermont back in 2018, nearly double the national average for that year.

Another unsettling statistic was that if all of the currently eligible-for-retirement teachers in Vermont were to suddenly take that retirement, it would cost Vermont $28 million dollars. Campaign for Vermont’s board president, Pat McDonald, commented on how this would immediately impact the Vermont economy.

“If people who can retire now retire, we are writing a check that comes right off the top,” she said. “Right off the top of the revenue stream.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Campaign for Vermont

11 thoughts on “Contrary to popular belief, study shows public school teachers make much more than their private counterparts

  1. And sadly this isn’t even close to accurate. Teachers and State workers should be well paid.

    When you add in all the benefits, retirement and medical, etc….You are well over $100,000.

    We need clear and open accounting and money disclosures. There are no jobs that come remotely close in pay to what state and teachers earn.

    The pay differential is much closer to $50,000 more per year than $12,000 per year.

    • Can you see the irony? All those professing “equity” are “more equitable” than everyone else?

      Wasn’t there a barn yard story book about this?

  2. When I left the dairy farm where I had been working to take a job with the Strafford School District in 1983, teachers and administrators were underpaid in relation to the general public and many, including the principal, took summer jobs to supplement their income. A change was clearly needed.

    I have found that much of public policy is like driving on an icy road where if your not careful you can swerve too far in one direction or another. Appreciate the Campain for Vermont analysis which highlights how far we have gone in the other direction from years ago. Ideally what we should aim for is wages and benefits that match those at the same skill level as the ones who pay for the services provided.

    What is not mentioned in this article is the role of public workers unions and specifically the VTNEA. While the teacher union played a key role in needed improvements in wages, it now, with its stranglehold on the Democratic and Progressive parties is destructive rather than constructive. No where is this more clearly seen than in the pension crisis, where holding on to all it can get for its members is the only priority and even modest reform rejected. All the while the whole system continues to go deeper in debt and become in the long run unsustainable.

    • This is nonsense.

      The opinion that “teachers and administrators were underpaid in relation to the general public’ is just that, opinion. In a ‘free market’ economy, pay is commensurate with the service provided. It is a negotiated exchange between employer and employee based on the principle of ’employment at will’.

      The point made here is yet another false dichotomy.

      Case in point. While the school principal and teachers took ‘summer jobs’ to supplement their income, workers in the private sector continued to work through the summer as well. Workers in the private sector also worked through various other school holidays provided for educators. And private sector workers typically are required to work longer hours during the day.

      And please don’t respond that most teachers volunteer to work longer hours. Some do. Some don’t. The point is, they’re not required to work longer hours. In the private sector, an employer can require employees ‘to work mandatory or unscheduled overtime’ as long as they pay for that time served.

      Interestingly, the teacher contract negotiated by their union prohibits over-time. Why? Because the union prefers the district hire more teachers rather than allow the existing teachers to work longer hours and earn more pay. Why do they do that? Because more teachers means more union dues and more votes. It’s little wonder then that teacher union officials make so much more money than the teachers they represent.

      Lastly, and importantly, public education employees are not required to make any guaranty that their services will provide a successful outcome – at least not to the extent private sector employees are required to do so.

      If a plumber is hired to fix a leak in your kitchen sink, charges for the service, and the sink continues to leak, the homeowner has recourse.

      If parents send their child to a public school, ostensibly to learn to read, write and do arithmetic, to a grade level prescribed by the State Board of Education, and the child fails to learn – the parent has no recourse. Not only are the parents required to send their children to the school, they are forced to pay for the services whether or not they use them – AND whether or not the teachers are successful. The teachers and the school principal are not held accountable.

      Typically, when students fail to learn, teachers and the principal blame the school board, or they blame the Agency of Education, or the State Board of Education, or the federal Dept. of Education. And in the final analysis, they all blame the parents.

      Of course, if parents really were accountable, they would be authorized to direct their tax dollars to the education program they believe best meets the needs of their children – AND assume responsibility for their decision.

  3. Most times that I check, Each pupil “needs” $16,000 worth of teacher and all other school expenses
    $16,000 per pupil
    Third Grade costs as Much as Engineering studies in College?

    How can we tolerate this gigantic bill, for every child in public Grade Schools??

    • The typical Vermont public school cost per student is much more than $16K annually. In my district, when I divide the annual budget by the number of actual students it serves, the cost per student is north of $22K annually.

      An instate student can attend Castleton University for about that much. And that includes orientation fees, resource fees, tuition, AND room and board.

      One of the State’s education cost slight-of-hand maneuvers is using the so-called ‘equalized student enrollment’ as the basis for its per student cost calculation. The ‘equalized student enrollment’ is artificially inflated to increase the enrollment. For example, a school with an ‘equalized student enrollment’ of 500 students has, in reality, only about 425 actual students.

  4. High pay and benefits, so teachers can be cowed to teach the benefits of CRT, the benefits of multiple genders, the benefits of Socialism, the benefits of “wokeness”, whatever that means, etc.,

    All those distractions take away attention from scholastic achievement
    As a result, scholastic outcomes remain mediocre

    • Parents should bite the $bullet.
      Take their children out of public schools.

      My sister took one look and the Public school environment, and decided to enroll her two children in Montessori schools.

      One became a cardiologist, the other a senior IT manager at Princeton U

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