Those ‘Overpaid’ Wisconsin Teachers

Or something. David Wescott brings a strong dose of reality to the myth of overpaid public sector workers:

Wisconsin has some economic problems, but overpaying teachers is not one of them. The starting salary for a teacher in Wisconsin: $25,000. College degree required, along with extensive review and licensing issues. Your average teacher can look forward to a salary somewhere in the mid 40’s. This is NOT a lot of money. Despite this, the teachers’ unions have already conceded to the GOP’s demands to cut their salary and benefits. So the budget arguments are off the table.

The average household income in Wisconsin is $51,222. Wescott puts this in context:

Attention, potential teachers: You can now make more money working full-time in food service or retail. Especially if you join a union.

One of the implicit assumptions of the education reformists is that teachers will respond to incentives, such as merit pay or losing their jobs if they perform poorly. So what incentive does a starting $25,000 salary provide? Especially if you have student loans to pay?

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32 Responses to Those ‘Overpaid’ Wisconsin Teachers

  1. Mokele says:

    I’m a grad student, and I get paid more than a starting teacher? How is that even possible?

  2. Miss MSE says:

    I absolutely agree with Mokele: I’m a grad student, and I get paid more than starting teachers? I may be on fellowship, but that’s still a depressing thought.

  3. Ross says:

    I once was wondering how the hell anyone could think teachers were overpaid. So I looked it up.
    It turns out that a lot of people think that teaching should be considered a part-time job: they only work 6 hours a day (this is not actually true, but the people who think teachers are overpaid believe it), and they only work 9 months out of the year (this is not actually true, but the people who think teachers are overpaid believe it), so in that mindset, it is easy to convince yourself teachers are overpaid if they’re making as much money as a “full time” employee in any other low-paying job.
    It’s all predicated on misinformation and lies, but it does at least give you some sense of how they came to the ludicrous conclusion that teachers are overpaid.

  4. Charlie says:

    The only question I have relates to benefits. Occasionally, I get a statement from my company listing my total compensation. This includes salary as well as 401k match, health insurance, dental, vision, time off, etc. So what is the total compensation of the teachers?

  5. Conshycrush says:

    He forgot to include their pension compensation in there… $25,000 salary + pension = a nice starting salary

  6. Ross says:

    Yes, because my children can wait until retirement to eat.

  7. Mokele says:

    Conshycrush – either your area has a LOT lower cost of living, or you need to raise your standards. If someone offered me a $25k salary plus pension, I think I’d spit in their face out of principle.

  8. Conshycrush says:

    @ Ross
    I agree it’s a low pay but you have to look at the overall picture. So you not only want more money but you still want to keep the compensation from your pension? Total compensation is what it is regardless of whether you get it now or later. I’m all for giving the teachers more money but if you do that then you have to do away with pensions. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. It’s too costly.

  9. Sam C says:


    It’s all predicated on misinformation and lies, but it does at least give you some sense of how they came to the ludicrous conclusion that teachers are overpaid

    Sadly that seems to be a defining characteristic of American right-wingers. From outside, it is baffling how your country tolerates and even respects such a bunch of lying fantasists. Their seem to have two guiding principles: (1) if you want it to be true, it must be true; (2) if you say something often enough and loudly enough, it becomes truth (even if it was an outrageous lie to start with).
    It’s not surprising that you have an occasional loony like like super-birther Orly Taitz (she’s gone quiet, perhaps her teeth are giving her trouble), but what’s amazing is just how many you have – where do they come from? Sounds like you need a better education system!

  10. Mokele says:

    ConshyCrush – Or we can just pay teachers more than poverty wages, keep their pensions & healthcare, and pay for it by actually imposing more than trivial taxes on corporations and the filthy rich.
    Here’s a simple analogy I heard on Facebook – A teacher, a private-sector worker, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a dozen cookies. The CEO takes 11 cookies, then turns to the private-sector worker and says “Look out for that teacher; he wants your cookie”.

  11. Conshycrush says:

    Sure we can do that… but won’t the corporations just pin the extra tax cost on the consumer… Us the taxpayers? It’s a vicious cycle and although everyone seems to have the answers it’s very complicated.
    It’s funny in how I’ve been a democrat for 12 years now but since I don’t blindly follow my party on every issue i’m labeled a right wing nut by some when I disagree with them…

  12. blarg says:

    “but won’t the corporations just pin the extra tax cost on the consumer”
    Good thing that argument doesn’t also work for CEO compensation… oh wait.

  13. Here’s a simple analogy I heard on Facebook – A teacher, a private-sector worker, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a dozen cookies. The CEO takes 11 cookies, then turns to the private-sector worker and says “Look out for that teacher; he wants your cookie”.

  14. Joe says:

    Not just the teachers, also the University of WI faculty are underpaid. Twice in the past 12 years have we gotten cost of living increases, 3% spread over 2 years. Even though my NIH grants pay a portion of my salary and benefits (and all of the salary and benefits for my lab people) the state is going to lower my benefits and tell me that I can’t pay my workers as much in benefits.
    Why does the state hate us (and education) so much?

  15. Mokele says:

    Conshycrush – They won’t need to, given their already obscene profit margins, but even if they do, it won’t matter, because by setting the tax rates for the super-wealthy and corporations back to reasonable levels, we can generate much more tax revenue, enough to actually lower taxes for the 99% of the population who does something useful.
    This is doubly true if we quit pissing away tax money on the military. Sure, we need one, but we don’t need to spend more than every other country on Earth put together and 6 times more than the next-most-wasteful.
    Also, nobody called you anything. At most, I scoffed at your wholly inadequate idea of a salary (which would only barely pay for my rent and food, mostly the former) and automatic assumption that it’s simply impossible to just plain pay teachers more. Disagreement does not equal condemnation.

  16. Stephanie Z says:

    Coneycrush, WI’s own reports put the cost of pension benefits at about 9-10% of pay. So $27,500 instead of $25,000, and possibly less because I can’t tell whether the $25,000 number is before or after the employee’s contribution for pension. Makes the teachers look really rich, right?

  17. Conshycrush says:

    So if a WI teacher who at 22 years of age makes $25,000 to start… what should they be making? At what yearly increments (%) should they be given raises? And at 30, what should their salaries be? Just wondering? and by the way… when i graduated in 2002, I got my first job working as a chemist at a consulting firm… my pay $27,500 with NO pension! in a major northeast coast city!

  18. Stephanie Z says:

    If that’s true, Conshycrush, you got royally screwed: If you’d been part of a union, someone would have been looking out for you on that. (Note: yes, I know chemists are not a group that can unionize.)

  19. Conshycrush says:

    Yes Stephanie Z… i was taken… I lasted 9 months there then left… since my salary is on par with other Chemists but I also fought hard and worked especially hard to get where I am now… in essense… I proved my worth!
    Note: I think teachers ARE underpaid… but at 22 years of age… before we go throwing more money at them… shouldn’t they prove that they can teach first???

  20. Mokele says:

    Conshycrush – Depends. In a rational society, teachers should be making $60k-$80k plus benefits, while football players are all volunteers. Sadly, we don’t live in a rational society, so I think $50k-$60k would be acceptable. Oh, and I make only $500 less than that on my PhD stipend in RI, so yes, you got screwed.
    Stephanie Z – Out of curiousity, why can’t chemists unionize? Is there some sort of law about who can and can’t, or just insufficient protections from corporate retaliation? And who determines that? I mean, shouldn’t anyone have the right to unionize, in any job, as a basic freedom in a democratic society?

  21. Conshycrush says:

    $60-$80K?? Then what should Chemists be making? and please spare me with the “teachers have a harder job than chemists” rhetoric… it’s laughable.
    And i would never join a union now… it would hinder my ability to advance upwards… seniority plays a big role in unions where the best candidate for a position sometimes loses out to his less qualified elders.

  22. rork says:

    OK. We admit that WI has the 2nd from the bottom starting salary of the 50 states, and is not that great for the average figure either (46.4K). How much better a set of matched non-teachers do would be interesting, matched for education level, educational institution, same masters degree (means no comparing math masters vs education masters), etc., and we do want to compare total compensation. I’m from S.E. Michigan in a region of rather high compensation, and some examples I’ve seen don’t seem that bad – I get envious on occasion. It is notably a very hard profession to break in to. Nobel prize in physics does not qualify you to teach physics in high school here. Crappy starting pay helps keep the shop fairly closed too.

  23. rork says:

    To be fair I should add I don’t think teachers are really oversalaried even in my area. Their benefits here are a problem (I’m not expert at WI). They bargained fairly to obtain those – it was folks on the other side of the table that failed to compute the sustainability of that, or perhaps even knew it was not sustainable and would be adjusted later. I don’t want to take their cookie either – here in MI we don’t tax the rich sufficiently (flat income tax), and it is their cookies I want to take.

  24. T. Hunt says:

    Using the page here:
    your $27,500 would be $33,600 in 2010, and more in 2011. A starting salary of $25,000 is less than $14 an hour, based on a forty hour week. I don’t know about you but $14 an hour is not much, not after 4 years of college and student loans, etc.
    My wife taught in Ga for 32 years and never, ever worked a 40 hour week. She would have danced for joy to work a 40 hour week. The time off in the summer might bring the hours down to a 40 per week average for the year. And that time off in the summer is getting less and less as the years go by.

  25. Stephanie Z says:

    Mokele, going back to my original sources instead of memory, I was overstating the case quite a bit. There are additional barriers to professionals who works with technicians, in that it’s fairly easy to get classed as a supervisor, who can’t unionize, but it can be done.

  26. Stephanie Z says:

    So, Conshycrush, you started out by saying that pension benefits made something a nice starting salary–without knowing what those pension benefits were. You then suggested that teachers’ pay should be compared to your starting pay–without mentioning that your salary represented gross mistreatment and without adjusting for inflation. Did you have some actual, relevant information to add to this discussion, or are you just going to keep throwing out distractions to be debunked?

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  28. Jorba says:

    @26 – You have him by the short and curlies, Stephanie.
    And as for his comment: ” … please spare me with the ‘teachers have a harder job than chemists’ rhetoric… it’s laughable.” Such arrogance and ignorance rolled into one lettuce leaf. Go spend a week in any K-12 classroom, Conshycrush, even spend just a day. Then come talk to us about how tough the chemistry profession is. Like most non-teachers you don’t have a clue to how tough teaching really is.

  29. joemac53 says:

    Here in MA the deal is: we pay 11% off the top of our salaries towards retirement. Health care is negotiated, but the worst deal you can get is 50/50 split with your town. This is what I had for the first 25 years of my career. (Started out at 7% retirement, but that was not negotiable, but a state rule).
    After 35 years, I retired from teaching, but I still have to work. My awesome pension will be a comfort to me after my youngest kid gets out of college, till then I’ll chase some private-sector cash.
    I also waited for the “summer off” to happen. I considered teaching to be a public service, and my summer jobs made sure I could pay some bills come February. I’m not complaining, because my job as a teacher was always interesting and fun. My summer jobs (truck driver, commercial fisherman, mechanic, house painter etc.) made me ready to back to the classroom. One summer I even hung out with 100 other physics teachers for three weeks!
    I was teaching during the “Massachusetts Miracle”, but no one who made a ton of dough during that period came by my house to give me any. I never apologized for taking my 2%, 1% or zero raise.

  30. Paul Murray says:

    “won’t the corporations just pin the extra tax cost on the consumer… Us the taxpayers?”
    No, because they are presently charging as much as the market will bear and skimming off a whopping margin as executive compensation. If they *could* pin an extra amount on the consumer, they would be doing it right now – they don’t need taxes to prompt them to raise their charges.

  31. Yes, because my children can wait until retirement to eat.

  32. Anon says:

    You are the one providing misinformation. Teachers are overpaid and I actually have facts to back it up. If you go tyo the following site you can enter any public school teacher’s name in the state of Wisconsin and you will see their gross pay and the amount that they receive in fringe benefits (i.e., retirement pension contributions, health care, etc.):
    On average whaty you will see is that teachers with even less than 10 years experience and only a bachelors are being paid in the $50,000 plus another $25,000 in fringe benefits. If ther teacher has a masters or has been teaching for a longer period of time that average easily goes up to almost $70,000 per year plus $25,000 in fringe benefits.
    Lets break this down for a relatviely young teacher with only bachelors degree. He/she will be making the 50k plus 25k in benefits. That 75k per year. Now lets factor in the FACT that they are only required to work 9 months each year (they have more time off if you factor in holidays, etc.). 75k divided by 9 months equals $8,333 per month that this teacher gets paid. Multiply that times a 12 month year and they are making exactly the same as someone who make $100,000 annually that works year round and has to pay their own health care and 401(k). That is triple waht the median individual income in this country is. Teachers are part of the priveleged calss now. They ARE OVERPAID for public servants. Cry me a river. Its time that tax payers wise up and stop listening to this woe is me I only make 25k b.s. Look at the facts. Type in a couple teachers names that you know into the about database and do the math.

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