Public School Teachers Are Paid Far More Than Commonly Reported


During recent teacher walkouts in Oklahoma that captured national attention, many major media outlets reported misleadingly small figures for teacher pay. By failing to reveal all aspects of teacher compensation, these outlets hid the true costs to taxpayers—which now amount to an annualized average of about$120,000for every public school teacher in the United States.

CNN, for example, publishedan articleby Bill Weir claiming that in “most districts” of Oklahoma, “a teacher with a doctorate degree and 30 years’ experience will never make more than $50,000 a year.” That claim, which CNN neglected to document, is at odds with comprehensive data from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor. This information for Oklahoma and the entire nation follows.

For the 2016–17 school year, the Department of Education reports that the averagesalaryof full-time public school teachers was $58,950 in the U.S. and $45,245 in Oklahoma. Those figures generally exclude benefits, such as health insurance, paid leave, and pensions. These are typically much higher forgovernment employeesthan private sector workers.

According to the Department of Labor,benefitscomprise an average of 33% of compensation for public school teachers. Including benefits, teachers’ average annual compensation jumps to $87,854 in the U.S. and about $67,429 in Oklahoma. This excludes unfunded pension liabilities and certain post-employment benefits like health insurance, which are not measured by the Department of Labor.

That, however, still doesn’t tell the complete story, because full-time private industry employees work an average of37% more hoursper year than full-time public school teachers. This includes the time that teachers spend for lesson preparation, test construction and grading, providing extra help to students, coaching, and other activities. Unlike less rigorous studies, this data from the Department of Labor is based ondetailed recordsof work hours instead of subjective estimates about how long people think they work.

Accounting for the disparity between the annual work hours of full-time public school teachers and full-time private industry workers, theaverage annualized cost of employing teachers in the 2016–17 school year was $120,578 per teacher in the U.S. and about $92,545 in Oklahoma. Again, this doesn’t include certain post-employment benefits.

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