If you have been following the news lately, you would know that there has been some unrest in certain states regarding teacher salaries. West Virginia teachers recently went on strike for nearly two weeks, gained national media attention around the trending #55Strong hashtag, and eventually were rewarded with the five percent pay raise they were demanding.
Now other states are following suit; namely Kentucky and Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, teachers are protesting budget and salary cuts. In Kentucky, the issue is possible cuts to teacher pensions. These uprisings have teachers and Teachers' Associations in other states perched on their toes, as well as re-examining their own salary schedules and contracts.
In the midst of the West Virginia Teachers' Strike, Corey Turner posted an article to NPR titled The Fight Over Teacher Salaries: A Look At The Numbers. Despite an otherwise bland headline, Turner's piece contains an incredibly important component when talking about salary of any kind: Adjusting for Cost of Living.
Turner's article includes a bar chart that notes each state's average annual teacher salary - as well as that salary adjusted for the cost of living in their state as calculated by Ed Build. For example, the average unadjusted salary for a teacher in Washington D.C. is $75,810. However, as one may imagine, the cost of living in our nation's capital is quite steep. Thus, when adjusting this salary for cost of living, that D.C. teacher salary is really only worth $57,432.
Other states with a similar, and nearly $15,000 salary gap between unadjusted and adjusted average salaries include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Hawaii. Conversely, Oklahoma ranks 49th in unadjusted average teacher salary - but when adjusted for cost of living, their ranking jumps to 40th.
What about Maryland?
In Maryland, according to EdBuild's numbers, our unadjusted average teacher salary is $66,482; however, when we adjust that salary for cost of living, it drops to $60,937 placing our state sixth in the overall adjusted average salary rankings. In short, we are doing pretty well overall before - and after adjusting teacher salaries for cost of living.
But this won't answer all the questions and issues that we are hearing within the state. For example, as a resident of Frederick County, one may often overhear teachers say "I live in Frederick, but I teach in Montgomery County or Washington County because they pay better."
Is this true? Is it true for other neighboring counties as well?
I came across a video on Facebook the other evening where Frederick County Teacher's Association President Missy Dirks discussed how despite some higher-paying districts, some teachers are still working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Indeed, as a bachelor living in Frederick City, long past the days of having roommates, If i were a teacher starting out at step 1 with a bachelor's degree fresh out of my undergraduate institution, I would likely have difficulty paying rent in my city (rents and housing costs in Frederick City is worthy of its own post, by the way)!
So in the spirit of EdBuild's analyses using cost of living adjustments to look at *actual* teacher salaries, I decided to create a similar comparison looking at county-by county salaries and cost of living by county in Maryland.
Maryland Average Annual Teacher Salaries: Adjusted and Unadjusted
To begin, let me note that my average Maryland statewide annual teacher salary figure differs slightly from that used in the EdBuild data. I pulled average annual salary figures from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) report Analysis of Professional Salaries from October 2017.
Next, I sought out a county-by-county cost of living index for Maryland Counties. I found a county-by-county Cost of Living Index on the Maryland Department of Commerce Website (Note: these data are from 2010, which may soften these numbers. But I cannot find a more recent index for MD Counties. I have a call out to the MD Dept. of Commerce to see if I can't get something more recent).
Here is what I found after juxtaposing average unadjusted teacher salary by county in Maryland with the cost of living-adjusted salaries by county in Maryland:
Figure 1. Average Teacher Salary by Maryland County, Adjusted and Unadjusted for Cost of Living
Unfortunately, the constraints of this blog are not as friendly to large photos, but if you click on the one above, you will see actual, unadjusted salaries (grey bars) by county compared to the average cost of living-adjusted salaries (green bars) by county.
Counties are in order of highest average unadjusted salary to lowest. Not surprisingly, Montgomery County tops the list with an average unadjusted teacher salary of $81,823. Yet when you adjust the 'MoCo' average teacher salary for cost of living, the $17+K reduction drops the county from highest paid, to 19th highest paid (out of 24 counties). Frederick County drops 4 spots from 6th highest average unadjusted salary, to 10th highest paid average teacher salary after adjusting for cost of living in the county.
For teachers who work and live in Allegany, St. Mary's, Washington, Dorchester counties, you're actually earning more bang for your buck as your adjusted average teacher salary is worth more than your average unadjusted salary that is most often reported.
Maryland Minimum Annual Teacher Salaries: Adjusted and Unadjusted
As the heading suggests, what if we look at minimum annual teacher salaries by county? One reason for doing this is that it will remove any inflation in average teacher salaries that may be caused by an overwhelmingly veteran teaching staff in certain country districts. Indeed, most public school district "salary schedules" include a step-and-lane schedule that outlines the pay for a new, first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree; or a bachelor's-level teacher with X years of experience; or a master's-level teacher with Y years' experience. Veteran teachers who have 20+ years' experience will inflate the overall average salary, so looking at minimum teacher salaries by county may paint a more complete picture.
For this analysis, I pulled data from the MSDE on minimum salary for a new teacher holding a bachelor's degree in his or her first year and then applied the same county-level cost of living index adjustment to see how much first-year, bachelor's-level teacher's in Maryland school districts were really earning according to where in Maryland they teach (and presumably might live).
Figure 2. Minimum Teacher Salary by Maryland County, Adjusted and Unadjusted for Cost of Living
Once again, counties are ranked by highest minimum salary to lowest (grey bars) and are juxtaposed with the cost of living-adjusted salary for that county (green bars). Here, Montgomery county once again leads the pack with the highest minimum salary for new, first-year,teachers holding a bachelor's degree. But after adjusting for the cost of living in MoCo, the value of the $49,013 starting salary is diminished by over $10k, and places Montgomery County at the rank of 24th among the 24 Maryland counties.
Indeed, Allegany County also comes out on top for new, first-year,teachers holding a bachelor's degree. The value of a beginning teacher's salary is worth roughly $6,600 more dollars than the unadjusted minimum salary.
So why is this important? I don't know that it really is all that important to most folks. However, as the national conversation around education and teacher salaries continues, these data are worth considering...not only in Maryland, but in every state. As campaigns for midterm elections, as well as local and statewide elections start to kick into gear, it is my hope that candidates for office will consider and value information that seeks to tell the most complete story.
This is not to say that I believe the above analysis is telling a complete story; however, it is telling a more complete story than simply looking at average and minimum teacher salaries as reported my the MSDE.
So if Maryland teachers decide to strike for more pay, have another look at your salaries after they've been adjusted for cost of living. Maryland's cost of living index is 128.7 (compared to the U.S.index of 100). So we Marylanders are already living in a state that is a more expensive than others (i.e., per a state cost of living index provided by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center with 2017 figures, the cost of living index in Maryland [128.7] is higher than our neighboring states of PA ; WV [95.9]; and VA [102.2]).
Hopefully in the coming days I will be provided with a more updated county-by-county cost of living index, so that I can update these figures. In the meantime, let these data be a proxy for conversations we ought to be having surrounding teacher salaries in Maryland.