San Antonio – The Texas Public Policy Foundation today released a study that promotes fundamental reform in public school teacher compensation and repudiates State funding of public school teacher health benefits.

Teacher Compensation: Emerging Trends for Texas calls for a fundamental rethinking in how public school teachers are paid in Texas. The study points out that the average teacher salary in Texas is now $38,550, earned over only 185 days of work. Extrapolated to a more typical 235 day work year, the average teacher salary in Texas is equivalent to $48,969 ($208.38 per day X 235 work days per year). While teacher unions bemoan the fact that many teachers “moonlight” at other jobs, the short work year allows them to moonlight, unlike almost all other professions. The average teacher salary in Texas during the 1990s jumped from $28,300 in 1991 to $38,550 in 2000, a 36.2% salary increase during this period. The study also demonstrates that starting teacher pay is not as important as is the salary “climb,” which indicates the rate at which teachers increase their pay over time. Increasing teacher pay or benefits will not solve or significantly improve the current teacher shortage. Past research shows that teachers leave public schools because of poor working conditions, not low pay. This is evidenced by the comparatively low turnover rate of private school teachers who earn less than their public school counterparts on average.

Unfortunately, teachers unions are on record opposing merit pay. At last week’s National Education Association (with which the Texas State Teachers Association is affiliated) convention, NEA delegates passed a resolution reading “The Association opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions…. The Association also believes that performance pay schedules, such as merit pay or any other system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee’s performance, are inappropriate.”

Jeff Judson, President of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said, “Teacher union opposition to merit pay is indefensible. It is time to end the teacher shortage and improve the quality of teachers by paying them the way most everyone else in the workforce is paid – according to merit. Classroom results should be a component of teacher evaluations and pay.”

A recent proposal by teachers unions would have the state pick up the tab for teacher health benefits — a benefit that would increase the state budget by $1.5-2.5 billion. Following on the heels of the unprecedented across-the-board teacher pay raise last session, such a move would amount to another across-the-board pay raise.

However, as the TPPF study points out, teacher compensation should be reformed to end across-the-board pay adjustments and to eliminate the current state teacher pay scale, which is based merely upon seniority and education levels with no regard for student performance. Reforms should allow school districts to match compensation with teacher performance and to supply/demand considerations for teachers in specific fields. If there is an excess of art teachers and not enough science teachers, then districts should be allowed to pay science teachers more and pay the best science teachers the most. Current law allows school districts to pay teachers more than the state pay scale but not less, thereby restricting their ability to use their limited funds to maximum benefit.