Michigan State Education Officials Push for Higher Teacher Pay

Published July 3, 2015

Michigan’s outgoing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan made headlines one year ago when he said he wanted all public school teachers to make $100,000 or more.

Brian Whiston, the man who will replace Flanagan when he retires in July, told a legislative committee on education in June he thinks districts will have to pay teachers more if they want to attract high quality teachers.

“What is the average salary for a police officer, attorney, engineer, or a manager?” said Whiston. “Everyone should make a good living. That includes teachers,” Whiston told School Reform News.

Among Nation’s Highest Paid

The push for higher teacher pay comes at a time when a Mackinac Center for Public Policy analysis shows Michigan’s public school teachers are already among the nation’s highest paid.

The average salary for U.S. public school teachers in 2012–13, the latest school year for which national data is available, was $56,383. Michigan’s average salary that year was $61,560, 10th highest in the country. New York led the nation at $75,279 and Mississippi had the lowest at $41,994. 

In 2013, the Mackinac Center’s analysis of teacher salaries, which factored in cost of living, found Michigan to be second-highest in the country, trailing only Maryland.

For years, Michigan teachers’ salaries depended on a union-negotiated pay scale, which based salaries on years of service and level of education. A teacher’s effectiveness had no effect on salary.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) signed a 2010 law requiring merit pay to be a factor in teacher compensation, but not all school districts have followed the law. Davison Community Schools and Stephenson Area Public Schools worked with their teachers unions to develop a system for merit pay, deciding teachers achieving the highest evaluation of “highly effective” would get an extra $1 a year as a reward.

Easiest Path: ‘Ignore the Law’ 

Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says the easiest path for superintendents to follow is to do the bare minimum and not make any changes to teacher compensation.

“It’s hard work to set up a system that rewards teachers,” Spalding said. “Superintendents are dealing with unions, who for the past decades worked to set up a system that pays everyone the same regardless of performance. The easiest thing to do is ignore the law, because there aren’t any real penalties for keeping the status quo.”

Top school district administrators openly oppose merit pay for their teachers. Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland County Schools, wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post claiming merit pay would decrease student achievement.

For the vast majority of teachers, their effectiveness has little impact on how much they make, Spalding says.

Michigan named Grosse Point North High School teacher Gary Abud as its teacher of the year in 2013–14. Abud made $56,876 in 2012–13, about $21,000 less than the district’s average annual salary of $77,969.

Salaries Vary Wildly

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the average teacher salary in the state was $62,169 in 2013–14.

The average salary doesn’t tell the whole story in a state where teacher pay can vary wildly depending on the part of the state in which they teach. In Eau Claire Public Schools, about 15 miles north of the Indiana border, the top of the teacher salary scale is $58,714. In the Troy School District, 200 miles east of Eau Claire, the top of the scale salary for a teacher is $97,746.

Not all teachers should make $100,000, says Gary Naeyaert, executive director of Great Lakes Education Project, a nonprofit organization working to reform education in Michigan. Naeyaert says the best teachers should make six figures.

“We do agree that the most effective, rock-star teacher should make $100,000 or more,” Naeyaert said. “Like in every other profession, the top performers are the top earners. We strongly believe we have to break the historic model of representing teachers like clock-punching union members.”

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Image by Pictures of Money.