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Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 


Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 

May 25, 2024 | 5:19 am ET
By Jon King
Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 
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A new report says teacher salaries in Michigan have lagged behind inflation over the past 20 years, creating a nearly $17,000 deficit in real wages.

The report, “Teacher Compensation in Michigan: Recent Trends and Public Opinion,” is from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC), and provides an overview of recent trends in teacher compensation and compares them to the current state of teacher compensation in Michigan. 

Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 
Teacher wage penalties chart | EPIC report

“Michigan teachers face a substantial wage penalty compared to other college graduates with similar levels of education and experience. The situation is even more concerning for new teachers, as Michigan’s starting salaries rank among the lowest in the nation and lag those of all neighboring states,” states the report.

Citing a recent analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the report describes a “teacher wage penalty,” which refers to how much less teachers earn than other college graduates with similar levels of education and experience. College graduates with degrees in elementary and secondary education, which most teachers have, have salaries that are approximately 20% lower in their early career and up to 35% lower by mid-career.   

In Michigan, that wage penalty is determined to be 20.7%.

“While this is smaller than the national teacher wage penalty and smaller than the teacher wage penalty in most neighboring states, it nevertheless represents a significant disparity in compensation compared to other college graduates with similar education and experience,” says the report.

Using data from the National Education Association (NEA) union, the report noted that in the 2021-22 school year, the most recent year for which data was available, the average teacher’s salary in Michigan was $64,884, nearly $2,000 below the national average of $66,745. And while that was similar to other Great Lakes states, the overall picture shows that average teacher salaries in Michigan have declined sharply in recent decades. 

“From 1969 through 1999, the average teacher’s salary in Michigan was significantly higher than the national average and moved in parallel with the country overall,” said the report. “During this period, Michigan ranked 4th-6th among states in terms of average teacher salaries. After 1999, however, average teacher salaries diverted from the national trend and declined significantly, falling to 16th among the states and below the national average.”

The authors stated that if salaries had kept pace with inflation since 1999, the average Michigan teacher would have earned. $81,703 in the 2021-2022 school year. Instead, they earned $64,884, a deficit of $16,819.

The numbers are even worse for new teachers in Michigan. 

The average starting teacher’s salary in Michigan was $38,963 in the 2021-22 school year, which ranked 39th among the 50 states and Washington D.C. More importantly, when compared to other Great Lakes states, Michigan teachers had the lowest starting salaries, earning anywhere from $130 less than new teachers in Ohio to $3,200 less than new teachers in Illinois and Minnesota. 

Also included in the report were polling results from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) at Michigan State University which gathered data from 1,000 Michigan adults.

The results indicated that there is a base of support in the state for raising teacher salaries, but most especially for new teachers. While 51% of Michiganders believe that the state’s average teacher’s salary should stay about the same, 42.7% believe it should increase, while only 6.3% think it should be less. 

Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 
Average starting teacher salaries chart | EPIC report

However, when it comes to the salaries of starting teachers, more than three-quarters of those surveyed, 76%, believe they should increase, while 22% responded that it should stay about the same and just 2.1% believe it should decrease. Further, the polling suggests that residents believe teachers in Michigan should have a starting salary of $48,777, over $9,800 more than their actual average starting salary.

“These results suggest that there is a significant appetite among the public for investing in teacher compensation, especially for those just entering the profession,” the report states.

Jason Burns, EPIC research specialist and lead author of the report, said it is clear Michigan’s average teacher salaries have not kept pace with inflation, with starting salaries lower than most other states.

“These trends have implications for the state’s ability to recruit and retain high-quality educators, which is crucial for supporting student learning,” said Burns. “School funding in Michigan has only started to catch up recently after many, many years of low investments.”

As an example, the report points out that legislators in Arkansas, a state that previously fell below Michigan in terms of average starting teacher salary, recently increased the minimum teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000 for the 2023-24 school year.

“Michigan is a state with strong traditions of local control, and setting state-level policies about teacher compensation has proven to be challenging,” said Madeline Mavrogordato, an associate professor in the MSU College of Education and co-author of the report.

While Michigan’s Democratic-led Legislature increased per-pupil funding in the current Fiscal Year 2024 budget, with plans to do so again for the fiscal year that starts October 1, there have been no serious efforts to provide an across-the-board pay increase for teachers.

Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 
Average teacher salaries chart | EPIC report

However, there have been efforts that result in a better bottom line for teachers. 

Last year’s K-12 budget included $25 million for fellowships to offset the cost of going to college and $50 million for stipends while student teaching. Those measures in particular benefitted Michigan teachers just starting out, which the EPIC report noted faced the biggest compensation deficit among Great Lakes states. Similar investments have been proposed for the upcoming budget year as well, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently touted on social media.

“If you want to teach, we want you here in Michigan. That’s why we’re lowering costs by funding scholarships for future educators and helping teachers with their student loans. Together, let’s support our teachers and empower the next generation of Michiganders,” said Whitmer.

As for current teachers, perhaps the biggest measure the legislature provided in 2023 was to restore teacher bargaining rights, which were removed in 2011 under former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. By doing so, teachers were once again allowed to use collective bargaining to address issues including discipline, staff placement, and performance evaluations, while removing a requirement that compensation levels would be frozen if a contract ended while negotiations were still taking place.

That last provision had disadvantaged teachers in contract talks with districts, but with its removal, gave them leverage to reach deals that allowed for overall compensation increases. That was seen most recently in the Clawson Public Schools, where the teacher’s union was able to secure a 3% increase on base salary, as well as significantly higher longevity bonuses in a deal reached in February just as the new law was taking effect.

“When agreement couldn’t be reached on raises or steps in the third year, the union agreed only to a two-year contract. That choice was made possible by repeal of a union-busting rule passed in 2011 which penalized only one side financially — educators — when negotiations reached an impasse,” stated the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Even so, the EPIC report highlighted the role of teacher compensation as being “crucial” for legislators and education advocates to consider when seeking to address both Michigan’s teacher shortage and student learning deficit.

By aligning policy proposals with the priorities and values of Michigan residents, stakeholders can build broader support for initiatives that strengthen the teacher workforce and ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education,” it concludes.

Report: Starting salaries for Michigan teachers ‘rank among the lowest in the nation’ 
Average teacher salaries over time chart | EPIC report