SSN on Facebook SSN on Twitter SSN on YouTube RSS Feed

Nancy Smith

Is the 'Underpaid Teacher' Mostly a Myth?

October 4, 2018 - 6:00am

Twice during Tuesday night's debate Sen. Bill Nelson bemoaned the state of Florida teachers' salaries -- "they're $10,000 less than the national average for teachers," he said. 

It's all Scott's fault, Nelson exclaimed, because as soon as the governor took office in 2011, he cut $1.3 billion from the education budget. Never mind that Scott had to dig the state out of a $4 billion deficit at the time, or that the education budget now realizes a $4.5 billion increase in annualized revenue. Florida teachers have been swindled.

But, you know what? Not all experts in the field actually believe teachers have been swindled.

In spite of the union propaganda, the average teacher in America -- Florida included -- already enjoys market-level wages plus retirement benefits vastly exceeding those of private-sector workers, according to a pair of think-tank researchers, one in New York, the other in Washington, D.C. 

I Beg to DifferWhile the median teacher salary in Florida is $48,179, ranking the state at only 42nd, salaries vary widely by school district, with the $56,799 average in Broward landing much higher than the average $33,202 in Holmes. Nevertheless, no matter what county you live in, there's still much to recommend teaching in Florida in comparison with other professions. Why? Because so much goes along with it. 

Writing in the April 26 edition of City Journal, a quarterly magazine of urban affairs published by the Manhattan Institute, Andrew G. Biggs and Jason Richwine present no-nonsense, unbiased conclusions about teacher pay after pouring over a wealth of statistical data.  

And it's not as if they overlooked administrative records in Florida

Florida records come up specifically when the researchers show teachers who leave the classroom are not prospering because they got out of teaching -- in other words, very few of those who leave the profession take jobs that pay more than their salary as teachers. Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation show that "teachers who change to non-teaching jobs take an average salary cut of about 3 percent." 

Note, I said cut

Here are some of the other points they make to explain their conclusion:

-- True, public school teachers earn lower salaries than the average college graduate. "... But in what other context do we assume that every occupation requiring a college degree should get paid the same? Engineers make about 25 percent more than accountants, but 'underpaid' accountants are not demonstrating in the streets."

-- "Wages are not determined by years of schooling but by the supply and demand for skills. These skills vary by field of study. About half of teachers major in education, among the least-rigorous fields at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. ... Data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment indicate that students majoring in social science, humanities, and STEM fields not only start college with greater skills than education majors but also learn more along the way."

-- "The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) analyzes the skill requirements of different jobs, assigning each a pay grade based on the federal government’s General Schedule (GS). At the lowest skill levels -- a GS-6 on the federal scale -- teachers earn salaries about 26 percent higher than similar white-collar workers. At GS-11, the highest skill level, teaching pays 17 percent less than other white-collar jobs. This explains how shortages can exist for specialized positions teaching STEM, languages, or students with disabilities, while elementary education postings may receive dozens of applications per job opening. ... After adjustment to reflect the time that teachers work outside the formal school day, the BLS data show that public school teachers on average receive salaries about 8 percent above similar private-sector jobs."

-- "... Even in seemingly underpaying states, pensions can more than make up the difference. Oklahoma teachers accrue new pension benefits each year, with a present value equal to 30 percent of their annual salaries. Subtract Oklahoma teachers’ own contribution of 7 percent, and employer-paid retirement benefits are worth 23 percent of annual salaries. By contrast, the typical private-sector employer contribution to a 401k plan amounts only to about 3 percent of employee pay."  

Oklahoma, incidentally, has the country's lowest median teacher salary at $42,040. Biggs and Richwine admit teachers in Arizona, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have good reason to be dissatisfied: their salaries rank near the bottom nationally, even after controlling for cost of living.

Here's a story that might surprise you from The Atlantic: Larry Cagle, who transplanted from Florida to Oklahoma, says, at 54, he makes $34,500 a year teaching critical-reading skills to public high-school students in Tulsa. “I do construction and lawn maintenance in the summer” to make ends meet, he said. “I moved here from Florida five years ago, and in Florida I made $25,000 a year more.” 

Teachers also are golden in tough times. For example, they actually gained ground in the depths of the recession because they neither had to worry about being laid off or see their pay cut. Workers in other professions had no such assurance. That will be true in all kinds of tough times.

Have a look at the recent New York Times story reporting that "public-employee retirement and health benefits  are bleeding dry state and local budgets. Neither the public nor teachers fully appreciate the cost of these programs."

Say Biggs and Richwine, "We forget the value of benefits when considering how teacher pay compares with private-sector work. And research suggests that teachers value deferred compensation less than upfront salary."

The two authors conclude "teachers enjoy widespread public favor, and though their desire for higher pay is understandable, no nationwide crisis of teacher compensation exists. Most teachers receive market-level salaries and generous retirement benefits ..."

For the 42 years I've lived in Florida, teachers -- who chose their profession same as I chose mine -- have been crying the blues over bad pay, the state's dismal national ranking, how much more they could be making waiting tables/selling insurance/driving a truck, how close they were to qualifying for Food Stamps.

I'm not saying teachers don't have a right to complain. My husband was a teacher, I understand the sentiment. What I am saying is, the governor wasn't responsible for it then, he isn't responsible for it now. Rick Scott has done no harm to Florida's teachers or students; in fact, he has strengthened education.

For Bill Nelson, teachers' pay is only a shiny object that ticks off a box in his Talking Points.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


Check out this page. Once there, select Florida, and later on, down the page, click on "Adjust for Inflation."

So there is a giant difference. Private sector can go find a higher paying job, a teacher cannot without moving counties and hoping your new county accepts all your years of service. Also how many private sector jobs have Christmas bonuses or other fringe benefits.

Teach your kids yourself, Nancy. Might just improve your knowledge of the subject.

Also, teachers do not work as many hours as people in the private sector, they have summers off. I would love their health care and retirement benefits! Very few in the private sector in Florida, especially those working for small businesses, have benefits anywhere near that level.

Actually, many teachers work an additional 15 to 20 hours a week unpaid on lesson planning and grading. We also have required unpaid training in the summer. Oh and our Benifits? From the time I started teaching, my insurance more than three times what I paid working at a department store, and now that my kids are grown, I’m lucky to only pay around $370 a paycheck. I’m also very fortunate that I do not have to work two or three additional jobs to make ends meet, but I know many teachers who do. There is a big teacher shortage, so why don’t you become a teacher?

Most teachers will tell you, that “summers off” isn’t an accurate representation. Many teachers during that time take college course, continue professional development, spruce up their school, write lesson plans, move schools or classrooms, and decorate those classrooms. My husband is in the private sector and never has to bring work home. I bring home work almost every night.

Angela Poag, you're in luck! Teacher turnover is very high, so you can get some of those amazing benefits for yourself by becoming a teacher. No reason not to, right?

Ever taught 5 classes a day, over 30 students per class, 3 different subjects? Ever taught other's kids at all? Ever had to check papers at night, night after night? Sorry, but you are not credible.

More of Smith's partisan bu*sh**. The Florida Department of Education says the median public school teacher salary in Florida is $48,134 ... ranking the state 42nd out of the 50 states. New York's median public school salary is #1 on the list at $78,576, followed very closely by Connecticut at $78, 330. The median for the U.S. is $58, 030 ... so Florida's median is $9,896 LESS than the national median ... so Bill Nelson is $104 "off" when he says Florida teacher salaries are "$10,000 less than the national average for teachers". Public schools in Florida were already below average when Shouldabenafelon Scott took office ... but Scott put the total kibosh in the system over his eight years in office! it's shameful! #VoteBlue

Nancy didn't say Nelson's figures were wrong, she explained why he should not be using them as an election issue and why Scott didn't invent Florida's teacher salary disparity.

Who cares whether Scott "invented" Florida's teacher salary disparity? In eight years, Scott only made it worse.

Total bull, Beth

Don't compare Florida to New York! Their higher salary is an illusion. The taxes and rent/mortgages they have to pay up North are ridiculously high! In New York you pay Federal, state, and if you are in New York City, you pay city income tax. Basically you work 3 days for the government and two for yourself!

Got it, NY is not to be compared with. How about the other 41 states that also pay their teachers better?

This is the best you got. Two obscure partisan reports that try to substantiate your substandard claim... The quality of the reporting here is dismal at best. Its no wonder the writers here are either retirees, or freelancers... The biggest sham in your argument is to try to compare public teachers' salaries with the private sector. There is just no credible comparison. The choice to be come a teacher is an honorable one. In nations where teaching our kids, our future, is revered and paid accordingly, student learning and educational performance are paramount. There is little to no political interference, nor charter or oversight of schools. It should be noted the US has not been in the top 20 in education worldwide in over 20 years (hmmm, some coincidence). Some studies have the US as high as 27, some as low as in the 40's. Teachers and Law Enforcement should never have to pursue another career. They should be paid their worth. Yes, they should be held accountable and measured accordingly, but not just based on student testing. Teachers don't take tests, students do. My best buddy is a teacher in FL. He pays $800+ a month for family insurance coverage. That is nearly double what mine in the private sector is. My wife is employed in health care, she receives a match and bonus for retirement purposes equal to approx. 25% of her pay with her contributions. My buddy pays 7% into his retirement which is matched by the school board (state). 14% is far less than private sector retirement in this case for sure. Next, you claim Scott has enriched education in FL. He has not. What you fail to point out, is all the Charter School money, security money for the Sentinel programming (over half of which has been left on the table because the legislature refuses to let the schools use it for SRO's, arm teachers or security guards or nothing, scary), all the capital improvement money, building new schools, even increases in transportation. The legislature mandates that all that extra, non-teaching money be figured into the per pupil funding formula. It is all a sham, Subtract that out and per pupil funding has dropped by over $150 per kid, salaries have regressed when adjusted for inflation, all while we report record tourism and surplus. It is even worse for state employees. All while dishing out record corporate tax breaks, corporate welfare to set up in "business" in FL w/ very little benchmarks or oversight, and pork projects and new universities, 4 miles form existing ones. I'm not saying there should be none of those things, but there definitely should be balance between public and private investments, not all private and geared towards business and insurance interests. Gov. Scott has become significantly richer while in office, all allegedly legally through his "blind trusts" run by his independent wife and friends. His corporate friends have become significantly richer while he has been in office. Wages in FL have actually regressed 27% when adjusted for inflation, and FL is now 49 out of 50 in the nation in income disparity. These are not investments in Floridians and the future of this state. This is rich retirees from elsewhere moving to FL and running for public office to get richer and ensuring their friends do too... You tell me how that is good for this state and the rest of the 99% who live here? And that is the rest of the story...

You forgot that Red Tide Rick gutted the state EPA budget, eliminated agencies, cut SWFLMD in half and deregulated septic tanks and state waterways, but the algae blooms and red tide are not his fault....baaahaaahhaa....idiots!

Really da man?? What does an article that addresses a serious issue with legitimate teachers pay have to do with your Everglades Foundation brainwashed attack on environmental issues? Seems you got your "paid for" protest sign boards mixed up......

You do know that red tide is the result of dust from the Sahara! It's a naturally occurring event that has been documented since the 1800's! Trying to blame red tide on any politician only shows how stupid you are!

Exactly the kind of distortion we’ve come to expect from this nasty little rag. The Manhattan Institute is your source? And a NY Times piece decrying the $70,000 monthly pension payout to an Oregon University president? Please. I hope this gem gets circulated in every break room of every high school in Florida so you can learn what people do to earn the puny wages and benefits this state pays to teach its children.

Thanks, Nancy for this new insight to this seemingly age-old accusation that teachers aren't being paid what they many public sector employees, while teachers and others may not make outstanding pay, their benefits are quite good...and as you point out, they did make the choice to teach

Why should we listen to a partisan, political lobbyist (since 1979) on teacher pay issues . . . . . . . . so, you're currently representing Florida's public K-12 teachers, Barney? . . . . . . . . . . thought not . . . . . . . . perhaps working against them for other interests? . . . . . . . maybe teachers should all quit and give you a little competition by working as lobbyists so that they can earn a decent living, right. . . . . . . . . in your world, they just choose to be underpaid and under-appreciated, right . . . . . . it's all their fault . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
Live streaming of WBOB Talk Radio, a Sunshine State News Radio Partner.