Big Labor Mostly to Blame For Teacher Shortages

Union Boss-Backed ‘Single Salary Schedule’ Hurts Many Educators

(source: National Right to Work September 2015 Newsletter)

A host of news stories published late this summer reported that public school districts across the U.S. are, as a front-page New York Times article put it, “scrambling to hire teachers.”

nl201509_Page_6It is true that for many years (and not only recently) there have been teacher shortages in math, science, special education, English as a second language, and certain other fields.

On the other hand, prospective teachers who specialize in primary education and a range of subject areas like English language arts and social studies often find it very difficult to get any education job at all.

The key reason for the shortages that do exist is the so-called “single salary schedule” used to determine teacher pay rates in the vast majority of school districts across the country. It does not allow school officials to offer higher pay for hard-to-fill teaching positions.

Overall Growth in Number Of Teachers Nationwide More Than Sufficient

National Education Association (NEA) and other teacher union bosses strongly favor perpetuation of the “single salary schedule,” even though it harms many educators as well as schoolchildren, parents and taxpayers.

“The overall growth in the number of teachers nationwide is actually more than sufficient to meet the needs of America’s schoolchildren,” noted National Right to Work Committee Vice President Matthew Leen.

“In the 2003-2004 school year, there were 3.044 million full-time equivalent K-12 public school classroom teachers in the U.S. By the 2013-2014 school year, there were 3.122 million. That’s a 2.6% increase.

“Meanwhile, from 2004 to 2014, the U.S. K-12 school-age population, five to 17 years old, grew by just 0.9%.

“Part of the reason for the shortages that many districts across the country have regularly experienced in fields like math and science is that teachers with certain kinds of specialized knowledge can command much higher salaries in the private sector than they can in public education.

“This would not be a big problem if school districts had the flexibility to offer substantially higher salaries for the relatively small share of K-12 positions for which they have trouble recruiting teachers.

“But union bosses habitually say ‘no’ whenever school districts try to do this.

“In fact, the hierarchy of the three million-member NEA union has officially gone on record time and again in opposition to ‘providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions.’”

Without Monopoly Privileges, Teacher Union Bosses Couldn’t Shield ‘Single Salary’ Scheme

Mr. Leen commented: “Of course, teacher union officials wouldn’t have been nearly so successful at blocking significant reforms of the single salary schedule over the years without the help of the state laws authorizing and promoting union monopoly bargaining that are on the books in two-thirds of the 50 states.”

Were it not for state laws and local policies promoting monopolistic teacher unionism, school districts would be able to offer significant recruitment and retention incentives for hard-to-fill positions without imposing additional burdens on taxpayers.

“In addition to dictating far-below-market pay rates for some teachers,” explained Mr. Leen, “the single salary schedule mandates above-market pay rates for teachers who earn graduate degrees, regardless of the field of study.

“It does this even though disinterested research has failed to find a single positive effect of teacher graduate degrees upon student performance.

“School districts could also free up funds to increase pay for hard-to-fill teaching positions by making the currently automatic pay raises granted to teachers after every year of employment contingent on meeting minimum performance standards.

“In addition to hurting schoolchildren and taxpayers, teacher union officials’ stubborn opposition to meaningful reform of the counterproductive single salary schedule obviously hurts many educators.

“And in more than 20 states, public policy adds insult to injury by empowering union bosses to force teachers who choose not to join their organization to fork over fees to it as a condition of keeping their jobs.”