Here’s a bit of good news for teachers in Alabama — who could all use good news after this surreal school year.
Alabama’s teacher salary increases now appear to be outpacing inflation. Three years ago, inflation had outpaced salaries for at least a decade, meaning any additional money teachers made through raises wasn’t adding to their bottom line.
In the past few years, Alabama lawmakers have boosted teacher pay. And for the coming school year, another boost is coming: Everybody gets a 2% raise (except for teachers hired after 2013 who will net a bit less after a hike in required retirement contributions).
In many cases, local school boards pay teachers more than the minimum salary set by the state, and those salaries are expected to go up by 2%, too.
Those with more than nine years’ experience will see an even bigger bump as lawmakers made a one-time adjustment to the state salary schedule for those more experienced teachers.
But even though those changes won’t take effect until the coming school year, teachers finishing the current school year should still feel the effects of multiple years of statewide raises and investments in public education.
In 2018, a national effort, called #RedforEd, called attention to low teacher pay. Some states saw teacher strikes. Lawmakers in multiple states upped their pay for teachers in response.
At that point in time, AL.com’s analysis found teacher salaries had not kept pace with inflation and were worth less than a decade earlier.
With the pay raises given over the last few years, AL.com repeated the same analysis for 2020-21 salaries, finding that on multiple measures, teacher pay has now outpaced inflation, gaining value over time.
Using statistically valid methods to account for the impact of inflation, we equated a teacher’s first year of pay with what they were earning five, 10 and 15 years later. In each case, the value of the teacher’s pay now outpaced the impact of inflation. By how much differed by the starting point of a teacher’s salary.
For example, a teacher who started teaching in 2010-11 with a bachelor’s degree, if paid on the state’s minimum salary schedule, would have started out making $36,144.
Ten years later, progressing through the step pay raises given every three years and also benefiting from pay raises in 2017 (4%), 2019 (2.5%) and 2020 (4%), that teacher now earns $47,554.
And when adjusting for inflation, the increase is still seen, about $6,000 more over the 10-year period in that example — which was not the case in the 2018 analysis.
That’s good news for teachers, Central Alabama AFT President Marrianne Hayward said, but there is still work to do.
“We are making progress,” Hayward said. “But before people are willing to pay teachers a higher salary, they have to value the work that [teachers] are doing,” she said.
The pandemic raised the profile of the work that teachers do, she said, and gave the public a deeper look at the complicated field of teaching. “All of a sudden we were talking about the work teachers do.”
“Until the work that teachers do is really valued, it’s always going to be ‘let’s just throw them a little bit of money and then they’ll be quiet’” where raises are concerned, she added.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported the average Alabama teacher salary as the 32nd highest in the country at $54,095, with a national average of $63,645. However, when considering the state’s relatively low cost of living, Alabama’s teacher pay is worth $57,609, just under the national average of $57,912 and ranking 21st highest in the nation.
The charts below show how those pay scales look for a 5-year teacher, a 10-year teacher and a 15-year teacher. In every scenario, teacher pay at this point in time shows growth beyond inflation and the value of current salary being higher than the first time period of pay.
Because the state minimum salary schedule only increases every third year a teacher is employed, the value naturally decreases in year two and year three where pay is frozen. Then it jumps when the pay raise, known as a step pay raise, goes into effect. The cycle repeats unless there are percentage pay raises from one year to the next.
Data points represent salary amounts. The blue lines represent current dollars showing actual pay. The orange lines represent real dollars, amounts adjusted for inflation reflecting their value in 2019.
AL.com chose this way to look at the value of teacher salaries instead of comparing average salary over time because average salaries are typically more reflective of teacher experience and level of education rather than a robust look at the impact of teacher base pay increases.
The charts reflect only a teacher’s salary and do not reflect the value of benefits like health insurance.
Related: Alabama teachers getting 2% raise: Here’s how much districts pay now
Bonus opportunities for teachers
Teachers also have more ways to earn bonuses than they previously did. A National Board Certification earns a $5,000 annual bonus, and an NBCT who teaches in a challenging school (as defined in Alabama law) can earn a $5,000 annual bonus on top of that.
Lawmakers this year added another $5,000 bonus opportunity for middle and high school math and science teachers — on top of greatly increasing the minimum state salary schedule for that same group of teachers.
Math and science teachers who want to be paid on the higher salary schedule and also to be eligible for the bonus must apply to their local board of education, be accepted and also agree to give up tenure protections.
Read more: Alabama hopes outside the box approach attracts more math, science teachers
Some local boards of education — but not all — have given teachers one-time bonuses or stipends of appreciation in recognition of the difficult year educators have had this year.
Related: This Alabama school system fired teachers, gave administrators $20,000 in bonuses
And with nearly $3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding available to spend on academic recovery, which includes summer learning programs and tutoring, teachers could earn even more in one-time stipends. School officials can use that federal money to compensate teachers for additional work related to learning loss and learning recovery.
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