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Raise the Minimum Teacher Salary to $60,000: South East Florida's Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson’s American Teacher Act May Just Do That

December 22, 2022

Last week, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24 District), Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee, introduced the American Teacher Act to incentivize states to increase the minimum K-12 teacher salary to $60,000 and provide adjustments for inflation. This financial incentive supports ongoing state efforts to provide competitive wages for teachers and address the national teacher shortage.

"Teachers deserve a raise. Our nation's teachers have been underpaid, overworked and deprived of resources for too long. That's why I'm filing the American Teacher Act today, to give our nation's teachers the raise they have earned and deserve," said Congresswoman Wilson. "Teachers are the backbone of our education system and economy, playing a foundational role in the development of our children. For seven hours a day, they help shape and inspire young minds as well as nurture students academically and socially. As the COVID-19 Pandemic brought the world to a standstill, teachers continued to play a critical role in our recovery, underscoring their indispensability. I am proud to introduce the American Teacher Act, a critical first step in the fight to support a livable, competitive wage for America's educators."

Teacher shortages are among the most pressing threats to education access today, with districts across the country forced to radically adjust school offerings to respond to turnover and prolonged vacancies. Every day, stories surface of schools shortening their weeks, canceling courses, increasing student-teacher ratios and placing underprepared or temporary substitute staff in core instructional roles. Such adjustments disrupt learning, take a sustained toll on teacher morale and harm student achievement. In August, the White House issued a fact sheet renewing attention to the weak teacher pipeline and calling upon legislators to use federal, state, and local resources to strengthen teaching career pathways and ensure competitive, livable wages.

"While teachers have never received the wages and respect commensurate with the work they do to help all children reach their promise and potential, the culture wars and stagnant wages of the last few years have made this worse. Recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching force has become increasingly difficult—indeed, most parents say they wouldn’t want their kids choosing teaching as a career,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “Rep. Frederica Wilson’s bill, the American Teacher Act, addresses these challenges directly by providing states with federal funding to incentivize school districts to create a minimum starting salary of $60,000 for teachers. It also funds a national campaign highlighting the value of the teaching profession and encouraging young people to become teachers, using many of the recommendations in the AFT’s Teacher and School Staff Shortage Task Force report “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?” for recruiting the best candidates into teaching, including increasing compensation. This bill says put your money where your mouth is. We thank Rep. Wilson for her bold legislation addressing the low starting salaries that have plagued the teaching profession for generations, and we are proud to support this legislation.”

“Students of every color, background and ZIP code deserve qualified and caring educators dedicated to connecting with them and given the resources to nurture their passions and potential. The COVID-19 Pandemic further exacerbated the educator staffing crisis that had been brewing for more than a decade,” commented Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association. “Fueled by insufficient teacher salaries and chronic underfunding of our public schools, our leaders need to immediately adopt solutions to the educator shortage, including treating educators with the respect and competitive compensation these dedicated professionals deserve. The American Teacher Act is an encouraging step forward, and NEA applauds Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for introducing legislation to enact long-term solutions to this longstanding, systemic issue.”

“Teachers are vital to our democracy and economy because we need them to maximize all young people's potential. We must take advantage of this moment—with the devastating learning loss and enormous and historic teacher shortages—to pay teachers what they are worth to us, to young people and our shared future,” said Ninive Calegari, Co-Founder of The Teacher Salary Project. “Imagine what would happen if teaching were the sustainable and prestigious profession it deserves to be.”

Failing to invest in our teachers properly perpetuates shortages by devaluing the profession and diverting current and prospective educators. Currently, the Economic Policy Institute reports an enduring pay penalty for teachers, meaning that those in the profession earn lower weekly wages and receive lower overall compensation for their work than their similarly college-educated peers. This penalty reached a record high of 23.5% for public school teaching in 2021, making it increasingly difficult for our nation to recruit, train and maintain qualified educators. These concerns are even more significant among teachers of color, who are more likely to teach in schools with fewer resources.

The American Teacher Act Centers education as a national priority and addresses teacher shortages by supporting states in better insulating teaching as a valued and viable career. The bill would authorize funding to support the following:

• Award grants for the purpose of enacting and enforcing legislation to establish a statewide teacher salary requirement of $60,000 minimum, with 15% allocated to states and 85% to local educational agencies;
• Include a cost-of-living adjustment to ensure that minimum teacher salary keeps pace with inflation;
• Include a maintenance-of-effort provision to ensure states and districts do not replace currently committed allocations with federal government funding;
• Include a part-time teacher provision that adjusts required minimum salary proportional to workload (e.g., a 60% FTE teacher would have a minimum salary of $36,000);
• Include a provision that existing salary schedules or structures (i.e., the number of steps and lanes) remain as is with additional qualifications accruing the same salary increases as before, with step 1 as $60,000 and further steps adjusted accordingly.
• Provide a funding device that supports states and districts in closing the gap between current starting salaries and the $60,000 minimum over the course of 4 years.
• Prioritize local educational agencies qualifying as low or moderate-income.
• Invest in a national campaign to expand awareness of the value of teaching and encourage secondary and college students to consider teaching as a career;
• Support state efforts to ensure competitive wages for teachers

Grantees would be required to establish a statewide teacher salary schedule or otherwise with a minimum threshold of $60,000 and annual increases congruent with the inflation rate. This financial incentive supports ongoing state efforts to ensure competitive wages for teachers.

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