February 6, 2023

For decades, teachers have lamented lackluster pay – often working more than one job to make ends meet. 

But pockets of support have emerged lately. As states grapple with teacher shortages and fewer people entering the field, compensation often rises to the top of the concern list. Last year, governors from Florida to New Mexico worked with legislatures to increase educator salaries. And at the end of the last session of Congress, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat and former teacher from Florida, introduced the American Teacher Act.

Why We Wrote This

The need to attract and retain teachers has sparked some U.S. states to channel more money into salaries. Now, the federal government will consider the question: What’s a fair wage?

Designed as a four-year federal grant program, the bill is set to be reintroduced in Congress on Wednesday, and would help states lift their starting teacher salaries to $60,000. Though it faces an uphill battle, the proposal has helped renew longstanding questions: What’s a fair salary for teachers? And can educators and advocates get lawmakers on board with higher wages?

Cleaning houses after work helps Dawrin Mota’s bank account, but it also means less time the Las Vegas teacher can be physically present with his children.

“Nobody should have to work this hard to have a vacation,” says the Army veteran. “Nobody should have to work this hard … to afford something like a purse or to go see a concert or whatever.”

On his first day back from winter break, Dawrin Mota leaves the Las Vegas charter school where he works as a literacy strategist and heads to his second job cleaning houses. 

The side business he and his wife operate keeps cash flowing in to support discretionary spending. On this January evening, his wife cleans one house solo, they do two together, and they hire people to clean two more. It yields them about $350.

That kind of extra money was especially helpful during last month’s costly holiday season.

Why We Wrote This

The need to attract and retain teachers has sparked some U.S. states to channel more money into salaries. Now, the federal government will consider the question: What’s a fair wage?

“If I didn’t have it, I don’t know that I’d be able to really get my kids anything, honestly,” Mr. Mota says.

For decades, teachers have lamented lackluster pay – giving way to promises and debates on the campaign trail, in state legislatures, and in the hallways of Congress. Pockets of success have emerged along the way. Last year, governors from Florida to New Mexico worked with state legislatures to increase teacher salaries.

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