Bipartisan lawmakers say it’s time to raise Pennsylvania teacher base pay to $45,000

Sen. Judy Schwank touts a bill to raise teacher salaries to $45,000 minimum. (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)

It’s been 30 years since Pennsylvania last raised its starting salary for teachers, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers say it’s time for another update.

A bill in the Senate would codify the proposal, first raised in Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019-20 budget, to pay all teachers across the commonwealth a $45,000 starting salary — more than double the state’s current starting salary of $18,500.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, has bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly. Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, plans to introduce a companion bill in the House.

Wolf proposed allocating $13.8 million in his 2019-20 budget to fund the mandate. That includes money for retirement contributions, Medicare, and Social Security. 

But critics of the proposal, mainly Republicans, say that that raising base pay would have a “ripple effect” on salaries across the board and that increases to teacher salaries above $45,000 would be borne by local school districts.

Lawmakers dispelled those criticisms in a press conference in the Capitol Media Center on Tuesday, saying that the state did not see widespread growth in teacher salaries after it passed the last base-pay increase in 1989.

Schwank said that teacher salaries increased by 3.1 percent in the four years before the $18,500 pay floor was instituted in 1989. In the four years after, pay increased by 2.8 percent.

“It does not follow that everything in terms of pay will ratchet up,” Schwank said.

Schwank and Toohil appeared alongside Rep. Kyle Mullins, D-Lackawanna, and dozens of teachers Tuesday to reiterate the merits of the proposal.

They said that raising teacher pay would put educators in line with what other similarly educated professionals earn in the state. According to Toohil, the average Pennsylvanian with a bachelor’s degree makes $47,000 per year.

The average teacher in Pennsylvania makes $67,535 per year, according to a PA Post analysis of state Department of Education data. But there are wide disparities in pay across districts, and more than 3,000 teachers in the state, mostly in rural districts, make less than $45,000 per year.

Since the state last adjusted its teacher base pay, in 1989, student debt and the demands of the teaching profession have grown exponentially, said Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and a teacher in the Harrisburg City School District.

Askey said that some teachers hold additional jobs because their teaching salaries do not allow them to pay off student loans, buy homes, or raise families.

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