Contract negotiations may have won Hawai‘i’s teachers nominal pay raises, but data shows that average teacher pay, when adjusted for inflation, is actually lower than it was in 2009. On Sep. 5, The Guardian US published an article headlined “Teacher Pay Drops 5% in Last Decade – Despite Better Qualified Staff,” in which author Erin Durkin looked at research from The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution and data from the Digest of Education Statistics.
“As a wave of teacher strikes and protests swept several states last spring,” Durkin wrote, “researchers found that after adjusting for inflation, teacher salaries had fallen by an average of 4.6% compared with the school year that started in 2009, according to data from the Digest of Education Statistics.” In that same period of time, the article noted, the percentage of teachers with master’s degrees rose from 49 to 54 percent and those with doctoral degrees increased from 2.5 to 4.5 percent.
Evidently, graduate degrees did little for teachers financially – except, Durkin pointed out, burden master’s degree-holders in education with an average student loan debt of $50,879.
In Hawai‘i, teacher salaries have also been unable to keep up with inflation.
According to the Digest of Education Statistics, the inflation-adjusted average salary for Hawai‘i’s teachers dropped 6.4 percent from school year 2009-2010 to school year 2016-2017 (the latest data available). However, the Hawai‘i Department of Education Data Book shows that during that same period, the percentage of “Fully Licensed” teachers increased from 93 to 96 percent and the share of “Advanced Degree”-holding teachers rose from 32 to 37 percent.
So, while teachers in Hawai‘i have become qualified and educated for their jobs, their salaries have actually decreased when inflation is factored in. What’s more, these calculations use the national consumer price index (an inflation measure, calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The Hawai‘i state CPI is consistently higher than the national average, meaning inflation is greater in the state and a localized calculation would show an even lower inflation-adjusted salary for Hawai‘i’s educators.
“When you adjust for cost of living, Hawai‘i teachers are the lowest paid in the nation,” Hawai‘i State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee told me over the phone. It comes at no surprise, then, that Hawai‘i faces an ongoing teacher shortage. “Right now we have a shortage of over 1,000 teachers in hawai‘i,” Rosenlee added.
HSTA, Hawai‘i’s teachers union, has fought for increased wages and education funding, recently negotiating a new contract and supporting a constitutional amendment ballot question that would give the state legislature the power to implement a surcharge on investment properties in order to fund public education. When asked what the HSTA is planning to do to increase teachers’ salaries, Rosenlee stated that “The constitutional amendment is the best way,” citing the sales of multi-million dollar condos.
The constitutional amendment ballot question has been the subject of a lawsuit recently filed by Hawai‘i’s four counties against the state that disputes the language in the question is unlawfully vague. On Friday, Sep. 7, in a sign that the question will pass legal hurdles and appear on ballots, First Circuit Judge Jeff Crabtree refused to grant an injunction on the ballot question for the four counties. “I do not find the proposed language is deceptive,” Crabtree said.
“Today was a victory for Hawaii’s keiki. Hawaii has become a haven for outside millionaires and luxury developers who treat our aina like a commodity,” Rosenlee stated in response to the decision. “If the 1% want to call Hawaii home then they should be giving back—and that starts with paying their fair share to ensure our children get the quality education they deserve.”
Whether the amendment will win public support in November and whether scheduled raises will be enough to stabilize teacher pay is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the Hawai‘i Department of Education is making up for the teacher shortfall with plans to recruit military members and mainlanders into teaching positions – because, I guess, why train and pay local talent for meaningful work at home when you can entice foreigners with the lure of working in “exotic” Hawai‘i?
The problems that arise when teaching positions – positions of authority – are occupied by a population that’s nonrepresentative of students is a subject worthy of closer analysis, especially in a place with the history of colonization and diverse demographics of Hawai‘i. But for now it’s enough to say that with all that’s been said about the dark time that our world is in, and how to remedy a broken nation and political system, education should not be short changed. Teachers are on the front lines, working with the next generation to develop the skills to make the world a brighter place. They deserve better, because our keiki deserve the best. In Trumpland, bombarded by rife ignorance and deceit, our future depends on it.
Photo 2 courtesy Grow Some Good
Photo 3 courtesy Flickr/Ryan Ozawa
Photo 4 courtesy Flickr/U.S.DepartmentoftheInteriors