What is the impact of teacher salary increases on recruitment and retention? A new report gives us an interesting on-the-ground look using data from Washington State.
As the result of a state Supreme Court verdict in 2012, huge changes were ordered to the way education is funded in the Evergreen State. That funding—an additional $7 billion allocated over four years—began flowing in earnest in 2017. Most of the money was earmarked for teacher salaries, and that’s where the vast majority of it went. Local teachers unions across the state negotiated huge raises for their members, moving the average inflation-adjusted teacher salary from twenty-first highest in the nation to eighth highest. By 2019–2020, the state was sixth highest.
This significant expansion of state funding for teacher salaries over time allowed a group of researchers, led by Min Sun of the University of Washington, to estimate the relationship between teacher salaries and labor markets. They use a combination of sources to build their models: administrative files, state-level data, legislative reports, and statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS)—including data on teachers’ years of experience, job assignments, salaries, benefits, and full-time-equivalent (FTE) status—between the 2013–14 and 2019–20 school years. The start of the 2018–2019 school year marks the divide between pre- and post-treatment.
As expected, the majority of districts experienced increases in teacher salary post-treatment. These increases generally ranged between 1 and 25 percent, though a handful of districts went as big as 50 percent thanks to the influx of state cash. On average, base teacher salaries statewide increased by roughly $18,000 per year—from just under $60,000 to nearly $80,000 annually. Despite efforts to avoid districts substituting state funds for local funds—including a cap on local levy dollars—districts who relied less on state funding to start with still boosted salaries the most. Thus, pre-treatment disparities between high-paying and low-paying districts remained about the same pre- and post-treatment. Interestingly, there was no clear pattern in the quantitative data as to how any district would allocate the raises. Some of them frontloaded, giving larger increases to novice teachers, while others went the opposite direction to give more money to their veterans. Overall, however, the longer a teacher’s tenure, the larger their salary increase.
Pay bumps appeared to significantly reduce teacher turnover in all districts—between 3 and 5 percentage points—in the first year after treatment. Effects were especially strong for teachers with eight years of service or above. Hiring patterns showed largely null effects, except for a small but statistically-significant increase of .08 percentage points in hiring of so-called “junior teachers” (those with 4 to 7 years of experience) for every $1,000 increase in base salary post-treatment.
That is as far as the quantitative analysis goes. But the analysts also provide qualitative data via case studies. Interviews with a cross section of district staffers and teachers union representatives in five districts are used to tease out the mechanisms by which the funding changes translated into the varying outcomes seen in the data. Interviewees from both groups said that teachers unions at the state and local levels coordinated quickly and collectively to communicate a unified goal of raising teacher salaries as their top or sole priority following the court’s decision. Some district leaders expressed interest in using a portion of the new discretionary state funds in other areas, such as curriculum purchases and professional development, but union negotiators quickly set their sights on the full amount of the increase. As such, districts ended up putting the vast majority of their new revenue into salaries. Local union negotiators reported being well-informed by state union reps about how much was coming, and thus how much of a raise their districts could afford. Additionally, the longevity of tenure on both sides of the negotiating table seemed to matter. More veteran teachers on the union side equaled a higher salary boost overall (and, probably not coincidentally, a boost that was more likely to be backloaded in favor of veterans). More veteran administrators on the district side equaled a lower salary boost overall. This is anecdotal evidence from a small subset of districts, and so is not generalizable beyond their borders, but it would help explain the seemingly “patternless” quantitative findings.
Overall, this research indicates that state efforts to boost teacher salaries can impact who stays in the classroom and for how long, but also that specific local factors can distort any straightforward relationship between salary and the labor market. As schools and districts across the country address teacher pipeline issues, this analysis may give some context to salary-based recruitment and retention efforts.
SOURCE: Min Sun et al., “The Effects and Local Implementation of School Finance Reforms on Teacher Salary, Hiring, and Turnover,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (December 2023).