Report: Michigan teacher salaries lag behind inflation

By Kyle Kaminski

May 15, 2024

Despite record funding for public schools in Michigan, a new report from the National Education Association shows that teacher salaries aren’t keeping pace with the rate of inflation.

MICHIGAN—When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state budget last year, she touted it as a “game-changer” opportunity for everyone—especially teachers—to “make it in Michigan.”

That budget included record-breaking investments in public schools, bringing state funding per student to its highest level in state history, with hundreds of millions more dollars allocated for fellowships and stipends to support students on the journey to becoming educators in Michigan.

And this year, Democrats in the state Legislature are trying to repeat history—including by passing bills this week to boost funding for public education (again) to its highest level on record and investing even more cash into the MI Future Educator programs to support future teachers.

But despite those investments in schools, a new report from the National Education Association (NEA) shows that average teacher salaries are still lagging behind the rate of inflation.

According to the NEA’s latest teacher pay rankings, Michigan teachers earned an average salary of about $67,011 last year. And while that marked a 3.3% increase from 2022, their average paychecks still failed to keep up with the rate of inflation over the past decade.

When accounting for the rising cost of living, that means the average Michigan teacher is now effectively earning about 16% less than they did in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the report.

Here’s the deal:

The new report paints a bittersweet picture of public education across the US.

Sweet: Nationally, the average public school teacher’s salary increased by 4.1% to $69,544 last year—representing the largest year-over-year teacher pay increase in more than a decade. The average starting salaries for teachers also significantly increased (by about 3.9%) to $44,530.

The trend was attributed, in part, to record investments for public schools in states like New Mexico, Mississippi, and Alabama—which led the nation last year in increasing teacher salaries.

Bitter: Despite states like Michigan ratcheting up public education funding to all-time highs in recent years, it still wasn’t enough to make up for years of underinvestment in public schools, according to an NEA analysis. In fact, when factoring inflation, teachers across the US earned an average of nearly $4,300 less last year than in 2009, when teacher salaries had peaked.

Report: Michigan teacher salaries lag behind inflation

“While some elected leaders are doing what is right, too many students remain in schools where decision makers have driven away quality educators by failing to provide competitive salaries and support, disrespecting the profession, and placing extraordinary pressure on individual educators to do more and more with less,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a recent report.

How does Michigan compare?

When it comes to which state pays its teachers the most, Michigan is in the middle of the pack.

For both 2022 and 2023, the state ranked 17th in the nation.

The state with the highest paid teachers last year was California, with an average salary of $95,160, followed by New York and Massachusetts, at $92,696 and $92,307, respectively.

The lowest paid teachers live in West Virginia and earn an average of $52,870. Florida and South Dakota are also home to the nation’s lowliest paid educators, who earn about $53,000.

Silver Lining: Michigan’s strong union presence—and its recently repealed right-to-work laws—almost certainly shielded it from falling in those rankings. According to the report, teachers earn an average of 26% more cash in states that allow for collective bargaining.

Report: Michigan teacher salaries lag behind inflation

What else is in the report?

The rankings revealed other sobering statistics about public schools—including how teachers only earn about 74 cents for every dollar that other similarly-educated professionals earn, and how only about 17% of school districts offer a chance for teachers to earn $100,000 or more.

In Michigan, the NEA estimates that average public school teachers only earn about 79 cents for every dollar earned by similarly trained professionals who have bachelor’s degrees—bringing what’s known as the “teacher pay penalty” to a record high nationally.

The report also found that support staff (like bus drivers) face even greater financial pressure, with almost 38% of full-time K-12 support professionals nationwide earning less than $25,000 last year—less than half of Michigan’s estimated “living wage” of $58,892, according to the NEA.

What’s next?

This week, the state Senate passed what it bills as its “Building Up Michigan” state budget—which includes another record-setting recommendation for the state’s school aid budget that would increase public school funding by 3.1% to $9,910 per student.

According to lawmakers, the budget plan includes “major increases” in funding for at-risk students and English learners, as well as invests about $75 million to continue a student loan stipend program for teachers, and $26 million for a teacher leadership development program.

“The budget is one of the most important and impactful tools we have as lawmakers to directly serve all communities across our state,” state Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks

(D-Grand Rapids) said in a statement. “Our focus remains fixed on the people of Michigan and their needs, and we are committed to building up our state through intentional, meaningful investments. When we work together, we can accomplish great things for Michiganders.”

State Sen. Darrin Camilleri also described last year’s budget as the “most progressive” education budget of all time—and he said this year’s latest budget proposal will only cement the state Legislature’s commitment to supporting both students and teachers across Michigan.

“Our school aid budget puts educators and students first,” Camilleri said in a statement. “It ultimately ensures all Michigan students have the support they need to learn and grow.”

READ MORE: Michigan lawmakers look to break (another) funding record for schools

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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