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Hirono Introduces Legislation to Address Teacher Pay Crisis in America

The Pay Teachers Act would ensure public school teachers earn at least $60,000 annually

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) joined seven of her Senate colleagues in introducing legislation to begin to address the major teacher pay crisis in America and ensure that all public school teachers earn a livable and competitive wage that is at least $60,000 a year and increases over the course of their career. The Pay Teachers Act, led by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), comes as school districts across the country report serious staffing shortages largely due to unprecedented levels of stress, burnout, and low pay.

“School teachers shape children’s lives and futures,” said Senator Hirono. “For too long though, public school teachers across our country have been significantly underpaid—it's not right. That’s why I am joining my colleagues in working to ensure our public school teachers make at least $60,000 a year.”

Today in America, more than half of public schools report feeling understaffed, while the starting pay for teachers in nearly 40 percent of school districts is less than $40,000 a year. Forty-three percent of all public school teachers make less than $60,000 a year and hundreds of thousands of public school teachers have to work two or three jobs during the school year to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the average weekly wage of a public school teacher has been stagnate for the past 50 years, increasing by only $29 over the last three decades, after adjusting for inflation.

The pandemic only made things worse for educators, with the historic staffing shortages disproportionately affecting schools primarily serving students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. Recent studies show that, of all workers, K-12 public school teachers were the most likely to report higher levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout during the pandemic. Today, 44 percent of public school teachers quit the profession within five years.

In addition to requiring that states establish a minimum teacher’s salary of $60,000 a year and pay all teachers a livable and competitive salary that increases as experience and responsibilities grow, the Pay Teachers Act would significantly increase federal investments in teachers and public schools, including tripling Title I-A funding and funding for rural education programs, diversifying and expanding the teacher pipeline, and strengthening leadership and advancement opportunities for educators.

In addition to Senators Hirono and Sanders, the bill was also introduced by Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

The full text of the bill is available here. A one-page summary is available here.