How much should Utah teachers be paid? A new group is trying to figure that out.

By Courtney Tanner
April 11, 2019
In Utah, more teachers leave their job each year than the number of new instructors who enter the classroom.

That created a shortage of more than 1,600 educators in 2016, according to a new survey from Envision Utah, a regional planning agency. Meanwhile, the number of students filling the seats before them increased by 10,000 statewide. It’s an imbalance that’s getting worse.

“We need a lot more teachers than we currently have,” said Jason Brown, spokesman for the organization. “We just have such a high turnover rate.”
In a first-of-its-kind study from Envision Utah, which typically focuses on neighborhood and transportation issues in the state, the numbers reveal the deepening teacher deficit — something that’s been studied and talked about for years, including an impassioned call by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert last year to do something about it. But they also provide new insights into why college students who were interested in teaching chose different career paths and how teacher salaries compare to compensation for other professions in the state.

Because, in the end, the poll found that one of the biggest reasons teachers cite for leaving is the same issue that those who decided to pick a different job say led them away: The pay is too low.
Envision Utah intends to use that finding, Brown said, to further examine how much teachers should be paid and how that might be funded. The first step is creating a committee of 20 education stakeholders in the state — including members of the governor’s staff and the president of the Utah Education Association — to debate a salary range they would find reasonable and then pitch ways to fund that to the Legislature.

“We know there are many factors that influence people’s decisions to become teachers, and remain in the classroom — but teacher salaries are an integral piece of the puzzle, and we are invested in ensuring they are both fair and competitive,” said Tami Pyfer, the governor’s education advisor who will sit on the panel.

Currently, the average annual median salary for a public school teacher in Utah is about $54,000, according to Envision Utah. That’s nearly $6,000 below what is considered a living wage here. And it’s $20,000 to $32,000 below what those in comparable careers in the state, such as accountants and urban planners, are making.
(A similar study from Utah Foundation released Wednesday found that median salary was even lower at $47,600 — about $15,000 below the national average.)

The hope is that if teacher salaries increase, more educators will stay in the classroom and more will join them.


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