Tuesday, the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission unanimously agreed on its Legislative priorities including an effort to boost teacher compensation as a way to improve recruitment and retention among educators.
Last week, Envision Utah released a report suggesting Utah boost its average teacher starting salary from $40,000 to $60,000 a year as a way to address the state’s ongoing teacher shortage. It also recommends raising the maximum salary for teachers to $110,000 a year and adjusting retirement benefits.
The Salt Lake City think tank estimates such an effort would cost between $500 to $600 million a year. It doesn’t suggest, though, if the money would come from the Utah Legislature, local school districts or a combination of both.
Gov. Gary Herbert and other members of the education commission backed the effort and adopted it as one of their four priorities for the 2020 session centered on enhancing equity in schools.
“The market pressures are now forcing districts to raise salaries to keep teachers and to get better teachers,” Herbert said, referring to the so-called “salary wars” between Utah school districts. “So that’s just part of the effort that’s taking place now and I support that effort and I expect that the Legislature will support it in the upcoming legislative session too.”
An estimated 3,000 Utah teachers leave the profession annually, according to Envision Utah. Meanwhile, fewer than 1,500 new teachers are graduating from local university teaching programs each year. That leaves the districts with 1,500 vacancies that they have to fill through other means.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, serves on the commission. She was also part of Envision Utah’s task force that provided input for its report. She said she was encouraged by the commission’s unanimous support of the recommendations.
“By stating this very broad, very aspirational investment toward compensation and other areas that impact teacher retention, I think it really sends a message of value to our teachers, and value for the profession,” Matthews said.
Some commission members also see increasing teacher compensation as a way to improve the quality of Utah teachers. By increasing the applicant pool, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said it will be easier for schools to replace bad teachers with good teachers.
The commission’s three other priorities are funding for more optional, full-day kindergarten programs, more college advisors in Utah high schools and more professional learning opportunities for Pre-K through third grade teachers.