Stan Greer: Teacher union bosses fight higher teacher pay

This commentary is by Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

For decades and decades, the vast majority of K-12 government school teachers in America have been compensated under a so-called “single salary schedule” — a rigid, one-size-fits-all system that is virtually, if not entirely, unknown in our nation’s private sector.

Largely thanks to the influence and clout of the late Al Shanker, a top boss of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union, the single salary schedule in its current form increases pay simply based on how long teachers have been employed and how many years of higher education they have. The field of the teachers’ expertise, the quality of his or her work, and the relevance of the higher education experience to the job do not matter one bit.

In the private sector, the average salary varies widely based on the degree holder’s field of experience.  Generally speaking, businesses pay engineers and chemists more than they pay English and history majors, because it is more difficult to find qualified engineers and chemists. It’s simple supply and demand. Businesses also have to pay more to recruit people for jobs that are physically or emotionally challenging.

But Big Labor-perpetuated single salary schedules tie government school administrators’ hands.  They can’t pay a high school mathematics or science teacher more than a gym teacher, even if they can’t find anyone qualified to teach calculus for the same pay at which 100 qualified people are willing to teach phys ed. And they can’t pay a special ed teacher more than a teacher who has only regular classes.

The completely predictable consequence of this cockeyed system is that, in school district after school district and state after state, there are chronic shortages of teachers in some subject areas and chronic surpluses of teachers in others.

Moreover, as a fallout of the unprecedented disruption of American public education during the COVID-19 pandemic, for which government union bosses are largely responsible, the shortages in subject areas like math, science, and special ed have gotten worse over the past few years.

The problem has gotten so severe that, in state after state, school administrators who are normally very reluctant to take any stance on education policy that is contrary to the views of AFT and National Education Association (NEA) union bosses are begging public policymakers to loosen the salary straitjacket. 

In the Show-Me State, for example, officials of Kansas City Public Schools and the Missouri School Boards Association helped persuade state Rep. Ed Lewis (R-Moberly) this winter to introduce H.B.190, legislation that would empower school districts to pay educators more if they teach in a “high-need subject area or school.”

Under this measure, no educator would get paid less than the amount set by the single salary schedule. Nevertheless, when H.B.190 came up for a committee review on February 1, union lobbyists like Mike Wood of the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) furiously denounced it: “If everybody’s not on [the salary schedule],” fumed Wood, “then you could end up with a situation where nobody’s on it.”

After the acrimonious hearing, Lewis opted to fold H.B.190’s provisions into H.B.497, another education bill. H.B.497 subsequently won House approval with the pay reform still intact, but as this is written the reform’s fate has yet to be decided in the Missouri Senate.

The fact is, even power-mad teacher union bosses like current AFT President Randi Weingarten have at times admitted that Al Shanker’s single salary schedule is not in the best interest of schoolchildren, parents, or superior teachers.  But whenever it’s seriously challenged, Ms. Weingarten et al. defend it anyway, because it enhances their monopoly power.

Teacher union bosses’ stubborn opposition to any sustainable and workable reform of the way public educators are compensated highlights why they should never have been granted the legal monopoly-bargaining privileges they now enjoy in nearly 40 states. The key to genuine education reform is rolling back and ultimately eliminating those privileges.

Image courtesy of Public domain

2 thoughts on “Stan Greer: Teacher union bosses fight higher teacher pay

  1. Unions would rather have more employees paying dues and voting school district budgets than have fewer employees earning more money. For example, according to the most recent Agency of Education reports, in Vermont there are 80,692 public pre-k thru 12th grade students.

    And there are 23,962 teachers and paraeducators employed in the public school system. That’s a 3.4 student per teacher/paraeducator ratio.

    Furthermore, if you count all of the public-school employees (most of whom are in one union or another), from Superintendents to Bus Drivers, there are 75,534 people employed in the Vermont public school system. That’s a 1.07 to 1 student per school employee ratio.

    Of course, this doesn’t include the myriad numbers of consultants, social service, and construction personnel sub-contracted by the public schools. Local budgets often show higher costs per student. In my K-8 school district of Westminster, VT, voters just passed a $5.2 million budget to serve 192 students. That’s more than $27,200 per student.

    Do taxpayers get what they pay for? Statewide, 60% of Vermont’s graduating students don’t meet minimum academic standards in reading, writing, math, or science. Do the unions get what they want? Yes – in spades.

  2. Lets start counting the retirement teachers get in their pay when negotiating. Last I heard they were getting 50% of their highest 3 years of pay. So one getting 100K, is actually getting something in the area of a 150K. And free medical on top of it.

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