At the beginning of this year the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in an offhand way that teacher base pay should be “six figures”. The interviewer gently pointed out that teacher pay has “always been rooted in lip service”, and it has become clear in the months since that pronouncement, that the Secretary never had any intention of following up with any policy to move this needle.

But apart from him, there have been a few cogs turning.

The first is the Pay Teachers Act introduced by Bernie Sanders back in March. The bill proposes to bring national teacher base pay up to $60k, something that could be absolutely key for areas like Hawaii and DC which are currently below that threshold but have some of the highest cost of living of almost anywhere in the US.


The bill has not made much progress since March, which is unsurprising given the current state of congress (before it was vetoed by Biden, the senate passed that ridiculous student loan repayment bill with a few “Democrats” defecting to vote for it). It is unclear whether it will make it out of committee but it is really unlikely to pass the Republican house if it does, given how much the teacher shortage has become a politicized issue.

However, even with legislative deadlock at the national level, several states are stepping up. has a great summation of these teacher bills across 23 different states. And while only 5 have been signed into law so far it seems clear that even Republicans at the state level cannot so easily ignore and dismiss the teacher shortages. The bills that they focus on and sponsor might have a larger focus on private or charter schools, but given that the alternative is nothing, we will take what we can get.

California is a state which would not benefit much from a national teacher minimum salary of $60k because that is lower than what many teachers already earn, but it also has such a high cost of living that the pay would have to be increased to ensure teachers in California could be paid a minimum wage.

To that end they have introduced their own bill which would increase current teacher pay across the board by 50% over the next 7 years in a way that is pegged to inflation. This seems far more likely to pass both because of the need for teachers in California, and because the state and the legislators like to imagine themselves as leading a more progressive charge nationwide.

But this all comes back to a core problem, states should not be the ones to bear this burden. At the end of the day, states are not currency creating institutions. Their budgets need to balance, at least over the medium term. The US government can always create money and while republicans love to sound alarm bells whenever this happens, that is mostly because they misunderstand how the federal budget differs from household budgets.

But as long as there is legislative deadlock (or even reactionary politics) at the federal level, states and local governments will have to put together programs that they can use as bandaids. Hopefully it doesn’t cause more long term damage than just dealing with the problem.

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