This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on September 23, 2014.
According to the Texas Education Agency, Austin public school teachers earn $46,924 on average. That is less than many other professionals, and in the opinion of many they should make a lot more. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers could earn another $12,000 per year?
This is an issue that was raised during the recent school finance trial but which has received little public attention: School choice, if implemented, will drive up teacher pay. In fact an economist who was paid as an expert witness for the school districts testified that school choice should not be adopted in Texas because then school districts would have to pay their teachers more money.
This is one of the best kept secrets in Texas politics: Teachers would earn higher incomes if school choice were adopted.
We all know that, on average, many other professionals earn more money than teachers. Higher pay isn’t the result of setting wages by state law but instead because there is a competitive market for their services, which is why employers advertise “competitive pay.” Unfortunately for teachers, there isn’t currently competition for their services: 93 percent of teachers are employed by school districts. Only 7 percent teach in private schools.
We all know that when you have a limited number of producers selling a product, it is called a monopoly. But the flip side of the coin is a monopsony, which is when there’s a limited number of consumers buying a product. In education, the limited number of buyers are school districts.
Lori Taylor, an economist at Texas A&M University, found that 88 percent of teachers would earn more money if school choice were implemented. Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, and Herb Walberg, Harvard professor emeritus, found in their research that metropolitan area teachers would earn at least another $12,000 if universal school choice were adopted in Texas. Markets would do for the teaching profession what markets have done for other professions — reward individuals for their talents with higher wages and better working conditions.
School choice would allow teachers to negotiate for higher salaries and better working conditions. Choice for students would give teachers diverse choices of where to teach and better enable them to match their unique individual talents with the needs of particular students. Markets would place a higher value on good teachers and reward them accordingly. One-size-fits-all does not work for students, and it doesn’t work for teachers, either.
And most Texans agree: Good teachers should be paid more.
Politicians have historically tried to solve the problem with increased spending for education. However, that has not had the desired result. We have more than doubled per-pupil education spending in inflation-adjusted terms since 1970, yet the problem of low pay for teachers continues to exist.
Unfortunately, the current school system doesn’t achieve this desired result because of distortions in the teaching services market, as outlined in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s recent report “Teachers Win: A Case for School Choice.”
School choice in Texas is the solution for paying quality teachers their true value while improving public education for students, parents and taxpayers. School choice will divert more spending to the classroom, drive up teacher pay and increase school efficiency. Teachers win, students win and Texas wins.
Wohlgemuth is the executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.