The Pension Pac-Man: How Pension Debt Eats Away at Teacher Salaries

Why aren’t teacher salaries rising?

It’s not for lack of money. Even after adjusting for inflation and rising student enrollment, total school spending is up by about 29 percent over the last 20 years.

It’s not for lack of money spent on teachers, either. Instructional costs, including salaries, wages, and benefits for teachers, make up slightly more than 60 percent of all district spending today, just like it did 20 years ago.

So overall expenditures are up, but teacher salaries are actually down slightly over the same period. Today, the average public school teacher earns $56,689 annually, a couple hundred dollars less than the average teacher salary 20 years ago (in constant dollars).

Why is this happening? This puzzle can be explained by three trends eating into teachers’ takehome pay: rising health care costs, declining student/teacher ratios, and rising retirement costs.

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