It takes a lot of nerve to ask for a 30 percent pay raise. You’d better be sure you had a banner year. Yet in Chicago, where just 15 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading (and just 56 percent of students graduate), the teachers union is set to strike if the district does not agree to a 30 percent increase in teachers’ salaries.
The average teacher in Chicago Public Schools—a district facing a $700 million deficit—makes $71,000 per year before benefits are included. If the district meets union demands and rewards teachers with the requested salary increase, education employees will receive compensation north of $92,000 per year.
According to the Illinois Policy Institute, the average annual income of a family in Chicago is $47,000 per year. If implemented, the 30 percent raise will mean that in nine months, a single teacher in the Chicago Public School system will take home nearly double what the average family in the city earns in a year.
According to the union, 91 percent of its members voted for the ability to strike. That vote gives the union the ability to walk out of public school classrooms as children return to school this fall.
The union argues that Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) wants to extend the school day, and that the requested salary increase would compensate them for extending the school day from 5.5 hours—among the nation’s shortest school days—to 7.5 hours. Chicago Public Schools states that under the extended school day:
On average teachers will provide 5.5 hours of instruction (an increase of 54 minutes), receive a 45-minute duty-free lunch and 60-minute prep period and supervise the passing period. They will also be required to be on-site for 10 minutes before and after school.
While the union bemoans the longer school day and is demanding a hefty pay raise as a result, taxpayers will be left holding the bill for a 30 percent salary increase and wondering whether $92,000 is appropriate compensation for public school employees.
As Heritage’s Jason Richwine notes, public school teachers should be compensated no better or worse than their similarly skilled private-sector counterparts.
…the teaching profession is not actually underpaid, nor is it an unpopular career choice among college graduates. In fact, total compensation for the average public school teacher is considerably higher than what his or her skills would merit in the private sector.
Creating a teacher compensation system that rewards the best teachers in a fiscally responsible manner is a broadly shared goal. To that end, policymakers should avoid across-the-board pay increases, focusing instead on performance pay by easing restrictions on entering the teaching profession, and basing tenure decisions on performance in the classroom.