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Yesterday (Sat Jan 4, 2014), I had the pleasure to be Kevin Quinn’s guest at ABC 13 Houston morning show. The topic was the low salaries of teachers across the U.S., but particularly those of in Texas. After the 3-min segment, I have received hundreds of tweets, emails, text messages, and even blog comments that I couldn’t answer all at once. Thus, I have decided to add my own post here.

First of all, if you have not had the chance to watch my segment, please watch here:

Average teacher salary in the U.S. is approximately $56,000/yr while teachers in Texas average about $48,000/yr. The highest teacher salaries in the U.S. are found in New York with appx $75,000/yr followed by Massachusetts with appx $73,000/yr. Obviously in Texas, we enjoy low(er) cost of living, no state and local income taxes than do our fellow teachers in NY, MA. However, even when we adjust the salary numbers to reflect the higher cost of living and state and local income taxes, our teachers in Texas are still paid less than their counterparts. Why?

1) We have high turnover of teachers in TX – much higher than other states. According to TEA (Texas Education Agency), Texas has lost over 36,000 teachers (which is about 11% of the teacher workforce), and was able to hire only 24,000 teachers (2011-12 period, the latest data we have from TEA). This means Texas was short appx 12,000 teachers and growing since 2011-12 period. Unfortunately, this causes larger class sizes, less attention per student, and thus low performance in testing and immense amount of stress on teachers, students, parents, and administrators.

2) High turnover means rehires; rehires means new recruitment and training, which ultimately all means money – the money that we could be paying our current teachers go to the recruitment and training of new teachers (50% of whom will quit within 2 years!) The cost to replace one teacher is $11,000. Doing the math overall, U.S spends $4.9 billion just on recruitment and training of new teachers. Imagine cutting this need only by one third, we would add appx 25-30% more on the current salaries of our teachers today!

3) New, novice teachers begin at the bottom of the salary grade, and thus pull down the average salary paid to Texas teachers. This is all due to reason #1 above.

Bottom line: Texas teachers on average do get paid less than their counterparts because we have more newer teachers in Texas whose salaries pull down the average. This also means other states have more experienced teachers on staff.

What should be done in Texas to remedy this problem?

1) Lawmakers and administrators need to work hand in hand (for a change!) and find ways (not just monetary!) to keep Texas teachers employed. A marketing rule I always love using is: “it is much cheaper to keep your current customers than going out and getting new ones.” Same philosophy applies here – if you just make current Texas teachers’ lives less stressful, more organized, and give them more achievable goals without ruining their personal lives (an average teacher works 12 hours a day), I guarantee the attrition rate of teachers in Texas will drop dramatically – making all the reasons I listed above void!

2) Some of the money we save from doing #1 above can be reallocated to increasing the salaries of teachers to match (and hopefully exceed) the national standards.

Why should we do this in Texas?

Because we entrust our children’s education with these individuals. They need the tools, the flexibility, the RESPECT, and the compensation needed to accomplish their mission – to build Texas’ and America’s future.

Is the problem only in Texas?

Unfortunately, no. This is a national problem. Let me remind you the national reading and math test scores of students in the U.S. compared to those of other countries in 2013. The U.S. ranked 49 – barely middle of the pack. Topping the list were countries such as Sweden, Norway, and Germany. Coincidentally, the countries in the top of this list pay their teachers about the same rate as their engineers, lawyers, and doctors get paid – they treat their teachers as nobles! These countries allocate between 8-10% of their GDP to education, more specifically their human capital (their teachers). The U.S.’ allocation of GDP to education: less than 2%, and most of those dollars go to equipment and real estate, not the human capital.

Bottom Line: The resolution to this problem is at the top – very top – with the President, the Senate, and the Congress. Chances of resolution: very low to none. God bless our teachers and kids!