Are Public School Teachers Underpaid?

I have addressed the issue of teacher compensation multiple times in the context of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the constant budget problems the district claims to have. The administrators claim that they need more money, yet time and again it is demonstrated that the district has been getting more money on a per-student basis, and in spite of the increased funding children are not being taught to read and write.

In general, increased spending on education has not created better results. But beyond that, the claim that teachers are underpaid has no merit. The issue of teacher pay got attention this week as actor Matt Damon was filmed complaining that teachers aren’t paid enough. (Do any normal people actually care what actors think about important issues?) He said teachers get a “shitty salary” and work “really long hours.”

So is there any truth to what Damon said about the salary and the hours? No.  In 2010, the average teacher salary in Milwaukee Public Schools was pegged at $56,500. The average benefits package was $43,505, resulting in total average compensation of $100,005 per teacher. Since teaching at MPS is a 9 month per year job, the annualized compensation package is $133,000. That doesn’t sound “shitty” to me.

Reason Magazine took a look at the teacher pay issue on a national scale:

According to Department of Education statistics for 2007-2008 (the most recent year listed), the average public school teacher brought in a bit over $53,000 in “total school-year and summer earned income.” That figure, which is about $13,000 more than what the average private-school teacher gets in straight salary, does not include health and retirement benefits, places where teachers almost always get better deals and bigger employer contributions than the typical private-sector worker. For more on teacher compensation, go here.

An average salary of $53,000 may not be much for a movie star such as Damon, but it’s a pretty good wage when compared to U.S. averages. Indeed, the Census Bureau reports that median household income in 2008 was $52,000.


More to the point, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other surveys that take into account the reported number of hours worked in a year consistently show that on a per-hour basis, teacher income (again, not including fringe benefits, which are typically far more robust than those offered other workers, including college-educated professionals) is extremely strong. sending even more money to a broken system going to help the students for whom schools exist in the first place?

This is not to say that the job of teaching is easy, or that I want to do it. It is simply meant to debunk this false idea that teacher are compensated poorly. There are lots of costs that need to be cut in MPS. The cuts should start with the bloated administration. But having teachers pay toward their health care and retirement are the logical places to start in order to bring teacher compensation packages in line with reality.


  1. This is a topic near and dear to me. It is to the point where I no longer have respect for the teaching profession or for teachers themselves. That is unfortunate. Mom was a teacher, I’ve been teaching adults in industry for many years.

    Teachers are the only profession in which they pat themselves on the back for being so “hardworking, dedicated, blah, blah, blah”. Everyone I know works hard, is dedicated, feels underpaid and overworked, takes work home and deals with frustration. Everyone I know has a pretty important job. Here is the difference. The rest of us have to produce results. Teachers do not. Without results, we don’t get raises and maybe don’t get to keep our jobs. Teachers get raises, regardless. I can go much further into this, but I am almost out of lunch time. Last, teachers are not “professionals”, they are “Labor”. They are represented by a labor union, not a professional society.

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  3. RCF

    I work on a School Board and volunteer all of my time. The real situation that is the problem with Public Schools is greed. Teachers in our District start at with a BS degree $45,000 with little to no experience. Immediately they are eligible for pension with is almost 30%, tenure after 5 years, 100% reimbursement on continued education, pay only 15% of the insurance costs and with all of fhe school holidays included wirk the equivalent of 8.92 months aka 3 months off. If s teacher is making $50K that are also geting a guaranteed soon to be 30% annual retirement amount which means they at $50,000 the retirement is $15,000 a year. In 8 schools, only 2 teachers were given a sub par rating which shows how much of an absolute scam the public school and districts really are. Before you disagree with me just look at the facts in your area.

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