Teachers are receiving apples, donuts, and lovely notes to thank them for their service. But that’s not enough. Many states are reporting severe shortages of teachers and support staff. This means larger class sizes and curtailed curricula. This means denial of a good education to millions of children.

The Economic Policy Institute lays out the problems and the solution in this post: Raise wages.

It begins:

A 2022 report reviews EPI research on teacher pay and presents the evidence showing that K–12 schools are facing a staffing crisis. The pandemic made clear that our economy cannot function if schools don’t have the staff they need to operate safely and effectively.

Policymakers need to invest in K–12 education now, the report’s authors emphasize. They can start by tapping into hundreds of billions of dollars of available federal COVID relief funds. Read the report.

Key takeaways

  • Since the beginning of the pandemic, state and local public education employment fell by nearly 5% overall, with much larger declines in some states, according to establishment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Household survey data indicate that the number of employed public K–12 teachers fell by 6.8%, school bus drivers by 14.7%, school custodians by 6.0%, and teaching assistants by 2.6%.
  • COVID concerns are likely a factor in nonteacher staff shortages. Education support staff tend to be older—and thus more at risk of severe COVID—than the average U.S. worker. Less than a third (31.6%) of U.S. workers overall are age 50 or older, compared with 66.2% of bus drivers, 55.4% of custodians, and 50.4% of food service workers in the K–12 public education workforce.
  • Low pay is a long-standing issue for support staff. From 2014 to 2019, the median weekly wage (in 2020$) for food service workers in K–12 education was $331, while school bus drivers received $493 and teaching assistants $507. In contrast, the median U.S. worker earned $790 per week.
  • Inadequate pay is a long-standing issue for teachers. Past EPI research shows that public K–12 school teachers are paid 19.2% less than similar workers in other occupations.
  • Policymakers should tap into the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal COVID relief funds available now to raise pay for education staff, enact strong COVID protections, invest in teacher development programs, and experiment with ways to support part-time and part-year staff when school is not in session. They also need to plan for sustainable long-term investments in the K–12 public education workforce.