Sunday, October 13, 2002

Up Close and Personal With Nebraska Teacher Pay

First they put on their saddest hangdog faces. Then they spill a few tears. THEN the teachers’ union lobbyists boo-hoo, howl, cry and moan that Nebraska’s heroic, overworked teachers are shamefully, woefully underpaid.

Well, Dick Buntgen of the Nebraska Taxpayers Association came across some good research on the website of the American Federation of Teachers that debunks that party line, and puts the issue of Nebraska teacher pay in much clearer perspective.

Bottom line: Nebraska’s teachers rank 44th in the nation in the average salary paid, $34,258. But when that is adjusted for cost of living differences among the 50 states, that average salary ranking rises to 38th.

It’s deceptive to point only to raw salary data in any kind of rankings. It’s much more useful, and fairer, to analyze teacher salaries in the overall context of the economies and communities in which they are working.

Nebraska’s ranking would undoubtedly rise even higher if a number of other economic factors were considered in the rankings. For example, even when adjusted for cost of living differences, the salary ranking does not take into account such factors as:

-- how many years of experience a state’s teachers have on average (Nebraska’s are less experienced, so naturally they’d be paid less)
-- how old they are (Nebraska’s are slightly younger)
-- what the rural-urban split of the state’s population is, since a rural job market is less competitive and will bear lower salaries (Nebraska’s teaching market is much more rural than most states)

The ranking also does not figure in the dollar value of fringe-benefit packages, such as health-care coverages (Nebraska’s are considered very good) and retirement benefits (Nebraska’s are considered downright cushy), as well as a number of other factors, from the teachability of the student population to the suitability of the state for raising a family, a key consideration for the age group most likely to be engaged in teaching.

So maybe Nebraska’s average teacher pay isn’t a dazzling amount . . . but it’s certainly nothing to cry about, when you look at it in context.

For more, see http://www.aft.org/research/survey01/tables/tableI-7.html

One devastating statistic stands out among the more than a dozen tables presented on the website: in the 1964-65 school year, for every dollar Nebraska spent on public K-12 education, 60.5 cents of that dollar was devoted to teacher salaries. By the 2000-01 school year, that zoomed downward to 35.5 cents per dollar.

It’s happening nationwide as the nonteaching bureaucracy siphons away more and more of the K-12 budget from the classroom.

But look again. The national average of decline in percentage of total spending that went for teacher salaries was 15 percent . . . but Nebraska’s percentage declined by 24.9 percent. Nebraska’s decrease in allocation of the education dollar to teacher pay was among the nation’s most extreme. Only Kentucky, Florida and North Dakota downgraded teacher pay in relation to overall spending more than Nebraska did, over the 35-year period.

Another eye-opener: for every dollar a Nebraskan who works in the private sector all year makes, a Nebraska teacher makes a quarter more. That’s even though teachers work significantly fewer hours per year than private-sector workers. Teachers make more than nongovernment workers in all 50 states, but the 1.25 ratio in Nebraska ranked 32nd in the country.

Again, in context, Nebraska teacher pay looks pretty good.

Also note that the Cornhusker State ranked 28th in the amount of salary increases paid to teachers from 1990 to 2000, an average increase in the decade of 28.8 percent.

Nebraska’s average teacher is making about 700 percent more money now than in 1964-65, when the average Nebraska teacher pulled down $4,893 vs. last year’s $34,258 average.

During that 35-year period, total spending for teacher salaries has grown from $75 million a year to $717 million a year in Nebraska. Total K-12 public education spending in the state rose from $124 million to over $2 billion.

Also eye-opening and breathtaking:

In 1961, the nation had 1,408,000 teachers in public K-12 schools with an average of 13.0 years of experience.

In 2001, there were 3,054,000 teachers, more than twice as many, with an average of 15.8 years of experience.

Adjusting their salaries for experience, inflation and so forth, those 1961 teachers were making $33,618 by today’s salary standards . . . while the average teacher in 2001 was actually making nearly $10,000 more that that. The numbers actually indicate OVERPAYMENT of teachers.

Interesting, eh?

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