School Choice vs. School Choice

Policy Backgrounders | Education

No. 155
Friday, April 27, 2001
by John C. Goodman and Matt Moore

Choice Outside the Housing Market: Effects on Teacher Pay

Figure V - Salary Range Variance for Newly Hired Teachers in Arizona

A concern of teachers unions is that competition and choice schools will lower teachers' salaries. Evidence on this question comes from Arizona, which has the most extensive charter school system in the nation. The state has 360 charter schools and virtually any private school can become a charter school, so in effect Arizona's charter school system is a thinly disguised voucher system.

"Charter school teachers earn more than public school teachers and good teachers earn much more."

In Arizona public schools, there is a specific entry salary for every level of education. The salaries vary over a range of about $8,000, with differences based on years of teaching experience. There is little flexibility in pay and no way to reward the more successful teachers. Charter schools, by contrast, are free to set their own salaries and reward systems. The result: charter schools teachers earn more and good teachers earn much more. In the charter schools, beginning teachers earn an average of 6 percent more, while salaries for newly hired teachers vary by $21,000 depending on expertise, experience, education and other credentials.68 [See Figure V.]

Many good teachers burn out in the public schools and drop out of teaching altogether. It might be possible to coax that corps of teachers back into the classroom if they could earn higher salaries, face less bureaucracy and enjoy greater safety.

Washington, D.C., has one of the nation's fastest-growing charter school systems. Some 15 percent of D.C. students - about 10,000 children - attend 33 charter schools. Because of the freedom to innovate and escape the bureaucracy of the D.C. Public School system, teachers have flocked from the public schools to charters. According to Paul Vance, school superintendent, "Teachers who have gone from our schools to the charter schools have found the freedom and collegiality which they were promised.... They saw an opportunity to do what they had dreamed of doing, to become unshackled."69

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