Gradebook reports that the St. Pete Times PolitiFact operation examined the claim by State Representative Marty Kiar (D-Davie) that “You can go to Georgia and make about $6,000 more a year as a teacher” and gave it the best grade of “True.” (Ding ding ding ding!) This is more significant up here in Leon County – on the Georgia border – than it is in the Tampa Bay area because Georgia school districts regularly hire away teachers living here and in other border counties.
But Kiar’s claim misses most of the story. Georgia has a statewide salary schedule. Individual school districts in Georgia collectively bargain with local teachers’ unions on supplements to the salary schedule, but the statewide schedule provides a base. The statewide schedule provides a way to implement important reforms that cannot get any traction in a state like Florida that does not have a statewide framework. For one thing, Georgia has implemented a differential pay system for math and science teachers that requires districts to start teachers certified in these areas at the salary step that corresponds to six years of experience. The bottom line is that math and science teachers have starting salaries about $4,600 greater than teachers in other fields.
Another important distinction between the Georgia system and Florida teacher contracts is that salaries rise quickly in the first ten years (26%) under the Georgia salary schedule, while the largest raises for Florida teachers occur after the twenty year mark. For example, this year’s Pinellas County salary schedule gives a cumulative raise of 10% over the first ten years. (The latest Leon County salary schedule I found – for 2007-2008 – gives a cumulative raise of 6% over the first ten years). The Georgia system for early raises makes sense for two reasons. First, early career attrition of teachers is a serious problem, and larger raises in the early years would (one would think) encourage teachers to stay on. Second, research demonstrates that the greatest improvements in student achievement occur during a teacher’s first five years. Early raises reflect this productivity improvement better than late raises.
I’ve put together a plot of teacher salaries for Leon and Pinellas Counties, along with the Georgia salary schedule and the Georgia salary schedule for math and science teachers. You can see the plot by clicking here:
The plot shows clearly the effect of the early raises for Georgia teachers, and how raises in Leon and Pinellas Counties (and especially Pinellas) take off after twenty years.
And that’s the rest of the story.