Let’s spend that money smarter
In his budget address on Tuesday, Governor Andy Beshear included a request for an across the board $2,000 a year increase in all public education teachers’ salaries. Per an article in the Courier-Journal, that works out to costs of at least $90 million in each of the next two years.
Also according to the Courier-Journal’s coverage of the address:
“Beshear pointed out in his address that conservative, Republican-led states in the south such as Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama have also moved to give teachers significant raises in recent years, adding ‘surely, we can do the same.’”
That raised eyebrows here at BIPPS, because we have recently been writing about the fact that the latest finance data available from the National Education Association (NEA) in its Rankings of the States 2018 and Estimates of School Statistics 2019, Table B-6, AVERAGE SALARIES OF PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS, shows Kentucky’s average salary for public school teachers in 2017-18 was $52,952. Mississippi only paid its teachers $44,926 in the same year! And, that was after the pay raise for Mississippi that Gov. Beshear mentioned.
To look at this further, I pulled up some earlier editions of the NEA’s Rankings and Estimates series to create this graph of teacher salaries over time in the two states.
By the way, I got a lot of criticism on Twitter for the above graph because the vertical axis doesn’t start out at zero, so here is the same data redrawn to make those critics happier.
Just consider the first graph a blowup of the second. Either way, the following points still stand out.
It’s clear that Mississippi’s teachers did get a notable pay jump from 2015-16 to 2016-17 of $1,915. But, there is more to the story.
While Mississippi’s teachers had very little pay increase from 2009-10 through 2015-16, throughout this period, except for a momentary dip in 2010-11, Kentucky’s teachers were seeing steady rises in their average salaries. In fact, from 2009-10 to 2017-18, Kentucky’s average teacher salary increased by $3,409 while Mississippi’s teachers only saw a rise of $2,619. Also, even after their raise in 2016-17, Mississippi’s teachers still lag WAY behind Kentucky’s teachers’ average salary according to the most recent data available.
Now, consider something else we have mentioned before in much greater detail. Mississippi’s white and black students outscored Kentucky’s white and black students by statistically significant amounts on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 4 reading and Grade 4 math assessments. Also, the process that led to this stunning performance out of Mississippi started several years before that state’s teachers got their notable salary increase in 2016-17. Mississippi’s teachers were starting to perform before they got what turned out to be a well-deserved pay jump.
Somehow, I have problems with talking about pay raises for teachers who are not producing when much lower paid teachers in another state with even higher poverty and other challenges are clearly outperforming us.
So, here’s a great idea. Let’s help our teachers to make us feel as happy as Mississippians about passing out raises by helping our teachers to perform better, first. I note that when I talked to Dr. Carey Wright, the Superintendent of Instruction in Mississippi, in early December, she mentioned some powerful initiatives her state passed in 2013 to attack the perennial low educational achievement there. One program, which provides really high-quality professional development to improve the quality of instruction on reading dramatically, has been getting annual funding of only about $15 million a year. It has now led to the Magnolia State surpassing us for Grade 4 performances on the NAEP.
How much would a similar program cost for Kentucky? According to the latest NEA Rankings and Estimates report’s Table B-2, in 2018 Kentucky had 40,294 classroom teachers and Mississippi had 31,252. So, let’s adjust the Mississippi cost for better reading instruction with that ratio to estimate a price tag of $19.3 million for Kentucky. That leaves a whole lot more from the annual $90 million plus the governor wants to spend on salaries that Kentucky could instead use to really boost teacher professional development, first. Some of that money would need to go to math improvements since Mississippi also moved ahead of Kentucky for math as well as reading.
And, some of that money should go towards making sure all our Ed Schools in Kentucky are preparing teachers to do things like teaching reading and math properly, a subject we’ve also written about before.
You see, if our Ed Schools had been doing it right in the first place, we would already be doing much better in our public schools. We also could afford to provide teacher raises because those teachers wouldn’t need so much professional development.
But, right now, I struggle with putting a lot more money into salaries when other teachers’ needs in Kentucky are more pressing and Mississippi is looking at us in their rearview mirror.