A Closer Look at Teacher Salaries

The State Newspaper ran an article on Monday with the heart-wrenching title: Teachers take 2nd jobs to help make ends meet. The story primarily focuses on one young teacher (she works at the restaurant her husband owns!) and invites readers to imagine many other dedicated young teachers also struggling to get by.

But a closer look at the data shows that teachers in South Carolina, even at entry level, earn more than most of their regional peers in the Southeast. Further, they make more money than the average South Carolinian and even more than the median family income in the state.

According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) the average salary of a public school teacher in South Carolina was $42,189 in 2005 (the most recent year they have analyzed). This was 88 percent of the national average; $47,602. South Carolina was ranked 28th among the 50 states, ahead of six southeastern states (TN, AR, TX, LA, MS, and AL).

Teachers worked an average of 36.5 hours per week, not including their generous summer vacation. The Manhattan Institute, also looking at 2005 data, found that teachers on the North Carolina / South Carolina border averaged $28.18 in hourly income, $3.80 more than their similarly educated white collar peers working in non-sales jobs. In Greenville it was $30.96 per hour, and in Aiken and North Augusta it was $30.55.

That same year, 2005, the median family income in South Carolina was $39,316 and the per capita income was $28,212. South Carolina’s median family income ranking was 40th nationally, and per capita income ranking was 44th. As a reference point for cost of living; a single family home in South Carolina cost 86 percent of the national average price in 2005.

These numbers paint a much clearer picture than the “case studies” in the State Newspaper. While South Carolina ranks in the bottom fifth for personal and family income, the state is middle of the nation for teacher salaries. Just at important, the low cost of living in the state gives these teachers greater purchasing power than similarly salaried peers in the west and northeast. Were the AFT to adjust its state rankings to account for cost of living South Carolina would rank even higher.

But the REAL story is not how much (or little) these teachers are salaried. The heart of the issue, which the State ignores, is that a mere 44 cents per educational dollar reaches the classroom in the form of instructional spending (a category that includes teacher salaries). This means that taxpayers already provide the funds for better teacher salaries, but the entrenched bureaucratic administration chooses not to allocate it to them.

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6 responses to “A Closer Look at Teacher Salaries

  1. The biggest political lesson that I learned as a Teach For America corps member is that issue of teacher salaries is misunderstood and abused by people on both sides of the issues: teacher unions and traditional liberals call for increases for their own sake, while conservatives like yourself point to the fact that teacher salaries are already high enough, etc.

    What both sides miss, of course, is that better teacher salaries should be used as a strategic lever by districts and states to recruit strong, leadership-oriented candidates who would otherwise choose other fields because they are driven by financial incentives.

    This is to say that you’d be correct to point out that higher salaries in themselves (for ineffective teachers) will not change a thing for low-income communities. Salary increases should however, be used to recruit and retain effective teacher-leaders.

  2. Ganselmi,
    Good point, but the real lesson here is that South Carolina does have the educational spending ($3.2 billion in state, $7.4 billion in combined local/state/federal money) to be paying teachers much more, but education officials continue to waste it. Only when parents are free to choose among schools can we expect bureaucrats to act accountably.

  3. I gotta say that even mediocre teachers work way more than 36.5 hours/week (most good teachers regularly exceed 50) and much of their summer breaks are reserved for professional development. The benefits given to teachers are still very good, but not nearly so good as most people seem to believe.

  4. I have an additional question about your data. Are you simply talking about teacher’s SALARIES or are you putting up the whole BENEFITS PACKAGE?

    My understanding is that teacher unions often push for huge pensions and other benefits in lieu of salary. Putting up the numbers for their benefits package as a whole would paint a much clearer picture.

    Most private citizens do not have pensions – we have a 401(k) that we contribute to. What are the real numbers here guys?

  5. Teachers do not get paid for the summer. They are paid for the days they are assigned to work which is distributed for 12 months.
    The average teachers in my district usually are in the parking lot at 7:00 a.m. and don’t leave until at least 4:30. They do not have a lunch hour. Of course this would apply only to teachers with classrooms of homeroom students not the music, art, gym and others who have much less to keep up with on a daily basis and don’t have lunch duty for lunch. There are plans, meetings, grades attendance lunch money picture money, yearbook money, field trips… all types of nonsense to attend to before the children can be taught.
    Most of the homeroom teachers also work nights and weekends. There is much more work these days than actually teaching, and most of it doesn’t help the students it just looks good for the district personnel.
    If they were paid by the hour for the work they do, they’d be millionaires. It’s a shame society thinks teachers are paid well.

    Try it for a few weeks, see if you can survive.

  6. As a middle school band director in AZ for the last 5 years, I have worked as long and hard as any other teacher or administrator at the school and in doing so have built an incredible music program at my school. I frequently am kicked out by the custodial staff that leaves at 10pm. 5 different classes with 1 hour of prep is a heavy workload, not to mention concerts, field trips, rehearsals, tutoring, grading, and all the additional obligations all teachers face. My summers are always spent wrapping up the old year while charging up the battery and getting ready for the new one. My current gross pay after 5 years is $34,000 before medical and retirement. No dental. To add my wife and new baby to my plan, it would literally cost 1/3 of my take-home pay. I do work several other jobs as a musician and private teacher. In the wake of economic downturn, my district is currently cutting a majority of its music and fine arts programs leaving me wondering why I put my heart and soul into a career that does not provide much incentive to do so.

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