Florida in the middle of states with teacher pay gaps, report shows

Teachers nationwide earn much less than other college-educated professionals, says a new report. Florida comes in at 19.6%. 

Image by Shannon Anderson from Pixabay

Teachers are earning significantly less than their college-educated counterparts in other professions, with the pay gap hitting an all-time high last year, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. 

The report found that Colorado has the greatest pay gap with a 35.9% difference between teachers and their nonteacher counterparts. Rhode Island has the smallest gap at 3.4%. Florida is roughly in the middle of the pack, at 19.6%. 

Other states making up the top 10 for largest teacher pay gaps are: Oklahoma (32.8%); Virginia (32.7%); Arizona (32%); Alabama (30.6%); Oregon (29.4%); Washington (29.1%); Missouri (28.3%); Louisiana (27.8%); and New Mexico (27.4%). 

Meanwhile, the nine other states joining Rhode Island as having the smallest teacher pay gaps are: Wyoming (4%); New Jersey (4.5%); South Carolina (8.3%); Delaware (10.9%); New York (13.2%); Vermont (13.6%); Ohio (14.4%); Mississippi (14.7%); and Alaska (14.9%).

50 States Ranked By Teacher Pay Penalties
Mouse over the graphic and scroll to see all states. 

Source: "The Teacher Pay Penalty Has Hit a New High: Trends in Teacher Wages and Compensation Through 2021."

In no state does the average weekly wage of teachers equal or surpass those of their college-educated counterparts. And in more than 28 states, the gap is greater than 20%, the report said. 

The situation in Florida

Florida schools have just shy of 4,500 teacher vacancies, according to an annual report that details data on subject areas that have critical teacher shortages as determined by a survey of school districts. The shortage areas are calculated based on several factors, including teacher vacancies and the “number of courses being taught by (teachers) not certified in the appropriate content area based on their teaching assignment.”

The report uses several types of measures, including projected numbers of vacancies during the current school year by teacher certification area. The areas with the largest numbers of projected vacancies were elementary education (2,195) and exceptional student education (1,859). 

And lawmakers passed a budget this year that would provide $800 million next year to help raise teacher salaries. That would be a $250 million increase from the current year and is part of an effort to raise minimum teacher salaries to $47,500. 

Nationwide Gap

The gap between teachers’ pay and wages of other college–educated professionals nationwide was 23.5% in 2021, according to the report. 

The pay gap has been steadily increasing for more than two decades, the report said. In 1996, teachers earned 93.9 cents to the dollar compared with college graduates in other professions. By 2021, the figure had dropped to 76.5 cents.

When adjusted for inflation, weekly wages for public school teachers rose only $29 between 1996 and 2021. In that same timeframe, wages for comparable college-educated workers rose $455.

In the education field, benefits—including health insurance and retirement—often make up a large share of teachers’ total compensation. But benefits for teachers have not improved enough over the last two decades to offset the wage gap, according to the report. The total compensation gap grew by 11.5 percentage points between 1993 and 2021. 

Escalating Teacher Shortage

The pay gap is one major issue accelerating the teacher shortage plaguing schools across the country. In an interview with ABC News last week, National Education Association President Rebecca Pringle said the United States is short 300,000 educators at the start of the new school year.

In January, a NEA survey found that 49% of teachers reported low pay as a “very serious” issue and 78% as a “very serious or somewhat serious” issue. 

But it’s not just lagging wages that are driving people away from the profession. Burnout was the top concern reported in the survey, with 90% of respondents citing it as a very or somewhat serious issue. 

The pandemic has exacerbated many of the profession’s stressors. The survey found that 55% of respondents were considering leaving the profession or retiring sooner than planned because of the pandemic. 

And with enrollment in teacher education on the decline, as it has been for the last decade, there’s a pipeline problem too, as fewer college students are choosing to enter the profession. 

Whether it’s increasing pay or providing bonuses, states are looking to attract and retain teachers in a variety of ways. 

In a different approach, some states are amending legislation to relax requirements for becoming a teacher. A new law in Arizona has made it possible for people without a bachelor’s degree to teach full time. An Oklahoma bill passed in May removed requirements for teachers-in-training to pass a general education exam.

Report Methodology

The Economic Policy Institute has been tracking teacher-wage trends for the last 18 years. 

Tuesday’s report is based on two data sets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sample demographic includes educators who work full time (at least 35 hours a week), are between the ages of 18 and 64 and hold a bachelor’s degree. 

The report noted that the pandemic’s disruption to the labor market could have impacted the study. However, research showed the pandemic largely affected people with less than four years of college education – in other words, people outside of the teacher-wage study. 

For more information from the report, click here.

The News Service of Florida contributed background. Molly Bolan is an assistant editor for Route Fifty, where this story was first published. 

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