As school districts across the country report serious staffing shortages largely due to unprecedented levels of stress, burnout, and low pay, Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Thursday introduced essential legislation to begin to address the major teacher pay crisis in America and ensure that all public school teachers earn a livable and competitive wage that is at least $60,000 a year and increases over the course of their career.
“It is simply unacceptable that, in the richest country in the history of the world, many teachers are having to work two or three extra jobs just to make ends meet,” said Sanders. “The situation has become so absurd that the top 15 hedge fund managers on Wall Street make more money in a single year than every kindergarten teacher in America combined – over 120,000 teachers.”
“Wages for public school teachers are so low that in 36 states, the average public school teacher with a family of four qualifies for food stamps, public housing and other government assistance programs,” said Sanders. “We have got to do better than that. It is time to end the international embarrassment of America ranking 29th out of 30 countries in pay for middle school teachers.”
“If we are going to have the best public school system in the world, we have got to radically change our attitude toward education and make sure that every teacher in America receives the compensation that they deserve for the enormously important and difficult work that they do,” said Sanders. “No public school teacher in America should make less than $60,000 a year.”
Joining Sanders on the Pay Teachers Act are Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
Today in America, more than half of public schools report feeling understaffed, while the starting pay for teachers in nearly 40 percent of school districts is less than $40,000 a year.
Forty-three percent of all public school teachers make less than $60,000 a year and hundreds of thousands of public school teachers have to work two or three jobs during the school year to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, the average weekly wage of a public school teacher has been stagnate for the past 50 years, increasing by only $29 over the last three decades, after adjusting for inflation.
The pandemic only made things worse for educators, with the historic staffing shortages disproportionately affecting schools primarily serving students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
Recent studies show that, of all workers, K-12 public school teachers were the most likely to report higher levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout during the pandemic. Today, 44 percent of public school teachers quit the profession within five years.
In addition to requiring that states establish a minimum teacher’s salary of $60,000 a year and pay all teachers a livable and competitive salary that increases as experience and responsibilities grow, the Pay Teachers Act would significantly increase federal investments in teachers and public schools, including tripling Title I-A funding and funding for rural education programs, diversifying and expanding the teacher pipeline, and strengthening leadership and advancement opportunities for educators.
“Students of every color, background and ZIP code deserve qualified and caring educators who are dedicated and have the resources to uncover the passions and potential of every child,” said Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association. “America’s schools are facing a five-alarm crisis because of the educator shortages that have been decades in the making and exacerbated by the pandemic. Together, we must recruit large numbers of diverse educators into the profession and retain qualified and experienced educators in our schools to support our students in learning recovery and thriving in today’s world. To do that, we must have competitive career-based pay to recruit and retain educators. On behalf of the 3 million members of the National Education Association, I thank Chairman Sanders for introducing the Teacher Pay Act that would ensure a $60,000 starting salary for every teacher as a critical first step to ensure all our students have the committed educators they need to thrive. We urge Senators to support educators and cosponsor this common-sense legislation that invests in our students, educators, and public schools.”
“Educators are nation builders. They have a vital role in educating and caring for our next generation. But they are neither treated nor paid commensurate with that role. Teachers earn nearly 24 percent less than similarly educated professionals, and when adjusted for inflation, many earning less than they were making a decade ago,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “Even with their need to take second jobs, educators spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on supplies, snacks, books and other items for students. Chairman Bernie Sanders’s bill, the Pay Teachers Act, will help close the pay gap by significantly increasing federal investments in public schools and raising annual teacher salaries to at least $60,000—and providing increases throughout teachers’ careers—to help ensure teachers are paid a livable and competitive salary. It would also diversify and expand the teacher pipeline and leadership opportunities. This is a necessary federal investment to help sustain the teaching profession, and sustaining the teaching profession will directly help us provide greater opportunities to our students.”
The Pay Teachers Act also garnered the support of more than 50 major organizations, including American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Alliance for Quality Education, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Center for Black Educator Development, Council for Exceptional Children, Economic Policy Institute, Education Leaders of Color, Higher Education Consortium for Special Education, Latinos for Education, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, National Rural Education Association, National Women’s Law Center, New Leaders, Rural School and Community Trust, The Education Trust, The Teacher Salary Project, and TNTP.
Read the bill text, here.
Read the bill section-by-section, here.
Read the bill fact sheet, here.
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