Low Teacher Pay Shortchanges Teachers—and Students—in Pennsylvania

Stephen Herzenberg |

We wanted to highlight the Economic Policy Institute’s new analysis on the teacher pay gap and explain why it should encourage Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass a proposal to raise the starting salaries of the state’s public school educators.

Nationally, in terms of total compensation (wages plus benefits), teachers earned 13.1 percent less than similar college graduates in 2018, the EPI report finds.

Pennsylvania is no exception. Weekly wages for Pennsylvania teachers are now 13.5 percent lower than for other college-educated workers. This compares to an average of 11.5 percent in neighboring states, including 18.5 percent in West Virginia where teachers recently triggered a wave of statewide and city teacher strikes.

In some parts of Pennsylvania, experienced educators earning low salaries struggle to pay their bills and support their families. Given the crucial role teachers play in their students’ lives, they shouldn’t have to scrape by to make ends meet.

To address the growing teacher pay gap, Pennsylvania legislators need to invest more adequately in Pennsylvania’s schools and pass a bill that would raise the minimum wage for teachers from the current $18,500 to $45,000. That way, teachers such as Steelton-Highspire’s Dottie Schaffer wouldn’t have to work two jobs to get by. The governor’s minimum teacher salary proposal targets money to the less affluent rural and urban school districts that pay the lowest salaries—providing a boost to local economies where it is most needed (just as the governor’s minimum wage proposal does).

Doing so is not only good for educators; it’s good for students, too. Low teacher pay makes it more difficult to attract and retain great teachers, the key to student success.

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a growing teacher shortage that, while not at a crisis level as in some other states, is starting to take a toll. One in 10 Pennsylvania teachers are in their first two years (“inexperienced”), reflecting high recent attrition exacerbated by uncompetitive pay. Pennsylvania also has a much higher concentration of uncertified teachers in schools with high shares of minority students than in other schools.

Pennsylvanians understand the urgency of the situation. Two-thirds of likely voters in Pennsylvania (66%) favor the proposal to raise the minimum educator salary, according to a poll conducted by Harper Polling for the Pennsylvania State Education Association in February. Nearly half of respondents “strongly favor” the measure.

Three figures in the EPI report tell the story:

Figure A shows that U.S. teachers’ weekly wages have not grown since 1996 (these data are not available at the state level).


Figure B shows that public school teachers now earn 21.4% less than comparable college graduates in other fields.



Figure C shows the teacher pay gap in each state. (The national gap is a bit smaller in Figure C than Figure B because it relies on several years of data—not just 2018 data as in Figure B—to increase sample sizes for states). 



Teachers and students can’t afford the decline in teacher pay compared to other college-educated workers. It’s time to stop shortchanging our teachers and our students by investing adequately and equitably in our schools.