Average Teacher Salaries in Michigan Highest in the Nation When Compared to Relative State Wealth

Analysis of school employee ‘concessions’ and how the foundation allowance works part of new Mackinac Center series on school funding myths

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Contact: Michael Van Beek
Director of Education Policy
Michael D. Jahr
Senior Director of Communications 

MIDLAND — Recent data compiled by the National Education Association shows that average salaries for Michigan public school teachers from 2003 to 2009 outpaced those of teachers in all other states when factoring in states' per capita personal income levels, according to analysis by Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek.

"Considering this state's economic performance over the last decade, it's rather surprising that average teacher salaries in Michigan continue to lead the nation," said Van Beek. "With employee compensation consuming nearly 80 percent of most school districts' operating budgets, education policymakers will have to consider whether this continued disparity is justifiable."

Claims by the Michigan Education Association, the largest school employee union in Michigan, that its members have given up $1 billion in contract concessions over the last three years is the latest school funding myth analyzed by Van Beek in an ongoing series of commentaries on public school funding. The first, explaining what the foundation allowance is and is not, can be found here. The project can be found at www.mackinac.org/schoolmyths.

Unadjusted 2009 teacher salary averages vary greatly by state, with a high of $71,470 in New York and a low of $35,136 in South Dakota. However, comparing states by these figures fails to account for differences in overall state wealth, which impact the states' ability to pay public school teacher salaries.

Per capita personal income is a standard measure of the overall economic well-being of a state, and controlling for this variable allows for a baseline comparison of average teacher salaries between the states. When this is done, Michigan teachers come out on top. In a 1996 report using this same method, the Citizen's Research Council also found teachers in Michigan to be the highest paid from 1990 to 1996.

"School boards should keep this in mind when they take on the tough task of balancing district budgets," Van Beek added. "This evidence flies in the face of the prevailing myth that public school teachers have made major salary concessions."