The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Lawmakers eye teacher wage bump as way to combat growing teacher shortage

With a looming teacher shortage, Iowa legislators advance bills increasing teacher pay for the first time in decades.
Emma Gutzman
Karry Putzy works at her computer at Solon High School, In Solon, Iowa on Monday Feb. 26. (Emma Gutzman/The Daily Iowan)

Karry Putzy’s father, a teacher himself, told her not to go into teaching — warning her about the extra stresses and challenges of being an educator — but Putzy didn’t listen. Now, with 30 years of teaching experience behind her, the 52-year-old she has “been around the block.” Today, the high school Spanish teacher says she still struggles to find work-life balance.

With a master’s degree and 23 years of teaching Spanish and Latin American studies at Solon Community Schools, Putzy is at the top of her salary schedule, earning $86,000 a year. However, like many of her colleagues, Putzy was forced to work another job in addition to teaching until just five years ago.

“They always say you’re not in teaching for the money — I get that,” Putzy said. “But you also need the money to be able to teach, right?”

While Putzy has persevered in the profession, other educators have opted to leave the profession for more lucrative fields. Low pay has exacerbated a growing teacher shortage in Iowa and across the U.S., experts say.

Iowa teachers earn on average $57,581 a year, according to data from the National Education Association, the main teachers union in the U.S. The average starting pay for teachers in the state is $39,208  —  over $12,000 less than the minimum living wage. Schools in the Iowa City Community School District can pay above this average, however, many school districts around the state fall below the average starting pay.

Experts say these low numbers are one of many factors that have contributed to a teacher shortage in the state. In Iowa, there are currently 1,000 vacant full-time positions waiting to be filled around the state. Nationwide, school districts have posted over 55,000 vacancies, according to data from a 2022 study conducted by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

States around the U.S. are working to find solutions to this teacher shortage. An obvious key piece to the solution is boosting teacher pay.

Iowa lawmakers continue to tweak legislation to increase teacher pay in hopes of building consensus on a proposal that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds originally introduced in her annual Condition of the State Address on Jan. 9.

“We want younger Iowans to see the teaching profession as something to aspire to,” Reynolds said. “It’s one of the highest callings one can have, so let’s make sure that teacher pay sends that message.”

Legislators agree on the need to increase pay, but scuffle over how to enact the change as critics question if the initiative is enough to address Iowa’s teacher shortage.

How lawmakers plan to boost pay, House adjust governor’s proposal

Lawmakers’ proposals differ on the details, but both the Iowa House and Senate are seeking to raise teacher pay from its current $33,500 — a number set by lawmakers more than a decade ago — to $47,500 in the House bill and $46,251 in the Senate version.

Reynolds proposed increasing teachers’ starting pay to $50,000 and setting a minimum salary of $62,000 for teachers with at least 12 years of experience. The proposal also adds $96 million of new money to fund the increases and would boost Iowa into the top five states for the highest starting pay.

In a statement to The Daily Iowan, Reynolds said Iowa must stay competitive with other states as they raise teacher pay.

However, lawmakers in the Iowa House killed the governor’s teacher pay proposal, which was attached to an overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. The Senate version of the governor’s bill is heavily amended.

Instead, House Republicans advanced their proposal that would phase in the salary increase to minimize the impact on school budgets and allow schools to plan for the impacts. It would start by increasing the minimum starting salary to $47,500 in the 2024-25 school year, then jump to $50,000 for teachers beginning on or after July 1, 2026.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull, also raises wages for education support personnel, including paraeducators and staff providing health, custodial, and food services to $15 an hour.

Currently, the average hourly pay for a paraprofessional in Iowa is $15.50, according to a Feb. 19 study by ZipRecruiter. With a high of $22.58 and a low of $7.90 an hour, the majority of Iowa’s paraprofessional salaries range between $13.56 to $17.60.

On Monday, lawmakers on the  Iowa House Appropriations Committee unanimously agreed to amend the bill to make it “more sustainable” by moving the $22 million appropriation from the Department of Education to the Teacher Salary Supplement Fund.

The bill advanced unanimously out of the Iowa House Education and Appropriations Committee and is now eligible for floor debate.

Wheeler said the House listened to feedback from the teachers’ union, superintendents, and more as they wrote the bill to “responsibly raise teacher pay in a way that is workable for our school districts.”

“While there’s no one solution that will be a silver bullet to solving teacher shortages, we know salaries are an important piece of this debate and this increase can only help,” Wheeler said in a statement to the DI.

The Senate kept Reynolds’ bill intact, introducing an amendment heavily adjusting the original legislation.

Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, outlined a plan that would include reforms to Iowa’s AEA programs, similar to Reynolds’ bill, and proposed a lower minimum annual salary of $46,251.

Senate File 2386 provides that the increase to teacher salaries will be supported by cost per pupil for a school district and supplemental state aid.

Evans said he does not think legislators have landed on a final proposal yet, but should advance a bill that’s “best for education.”

“In the end, between the House and the Senate, we’re going to come out with a very good plan that should improve services for kids across the state, as well as address the need to raise teacher pay,” Evans said in an interview with the DI.

Both bills survived the Feb.16 legislative deadline and are eligible for floor debate.

Potential disproportionate impact for rural Iowa

Increases in teacher pay could affect urban and rural districts much differently.  If districts have fewer students and the funding doesn’t keep up with the mandated minimums, schools might have to reduce staff.

Urban districts already pay teachers more than the law requires and are more prepared to accommodate higher state-mandated salaries. Experts say some rural schools worry they lack the financial resources to sustain a pay bump for educations, though better compensation could fix their talent recruitment woes.

Margaret Buckton, a lobbyist for the Urban Education Network of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa — both registered in favor of the House bill — said about two-thirds of Iowa’s districts are declining in student enrollment.

Buckton said the increase will be “a big shot of energy,” especially in rural and smaller districts where pay scales are lower. Buckton said many teaching positions are filled by people who are not yet credentialed because of a lack of applications.

Lawrence Bice, director of Iowa State University’s education preparation program, said until a few years ago, the teacher shortage had little impact on Iowa. Now there are shortages “across the board,” Bice said, and rural and isolated schools are particularly hit hard.

Bice said if Iowa can significantly increase beginning teacher salaries, it would address retention and recruitment issues in the field of education by attracting and retaining people in the profession. The boost to teacher pay could increase the number of people going into teacher prep programs in Iowa’s colleges and universities, Bice said.

The challenge to lure talent to Iowa school districts is real for Solon schools. Solon currently has a high school math teaching position open and has been advertising since December, but has only received three applications.

Solon Community School District Superintendent Davis Eidahl said depending on the position, the small number of applications hasn’t been uncommon in the past 10 years.

Starting teacher pay at Solon is set at $40,567.

Eidahl described an increase in compensation for teachers as “long overdue.” He said it could create a wider pool of candidates for schools to pick from and top quality candidates either coming to Iowa to teach or staying in the state.

Eidahl, a fourth-generation educator, left the classroom to make a better living.

In his first year of teaching high school science at Waynesburg, Eidahl made $18,000 — roughly 30 years ago. Despite his love for teaching, Eidahl decided to pursue a master’s degree and become an administrator. For his first principal job 25 years ago, Eidahl earned $50,000.

Eidahl said if the pay had been better, he would have continued to teach and coach, but the only avenue to increase his pay was to go into administration.

After receiving his master’s, post-master’s specialty degree, and doctorate, Eidahl received a base salary of $160,000 in his first year as superintendent of Solon.

Setting a minimum standard would even the playing field as far as salary and would benefit rural schools that struggle to recruit teachers to their communities, Eidahl said.

A study by the Annenberg Institute reported 1,612 teaching positions filled by under-qualified individuals in Iowa in 2021-2022, meaning the position was filled by someone who is not fully certified by state standards or is certified but in a subject area other than their teaching assignment.

Buckton said increasing teacher pay will make the profession more competitive and provide schools with more choices in who they hire, allowing them to find the best fit for their school district and their students.

Ruthina Malone, president of the Iowa City Community School Board, said the district has not yet experienced a teacher shortage because it is ahead of competitors with starting salaries. Malone said Iowa City is one of the few districts in the state that can fill teacher positions quickly.

Most teachers in Iowa City schools receive salaries beyond or comparable to the increase proposed by the House and Senate. A starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree receives a salary of $43,070, according to Iowa City school’s pay scale.

Is increasing teacher pay enough to combat the teacher shortage?

Experts and educators agree that increasing teacher pay is a strong start to addressing the teacher shortage in Iowa, but many factors have contributed to the dwindling numbers.

Bice, director of ISU’s education prep programs, said other challenging issues exist that may keep people from pursuing the profession, such as long hours and the problematic behavior of students, but low teacher pay is a problem with clear data.

Rep. Sharon Sue Steckman, D-Mason City, said boosting Iowa teachers’ pay is an excellent start, but if legislators are worried about attracting and retaining teachers, they need to treat educators with respect.

When Putzy started teaching in Solon, there was a regular flow of student teachers in foreign languages. In the past four or five years, Putzy said the school hasn’t had a student teacher in foreign languages as fewer students go into teaching — not just foreign languages, but nearly every sector of education.

Putzy agreed that low pay is an issue, and the “all-encompassing” nature of teaching is a reason for fewer people entering the education field.

“At times it’s like we’re everything or we’re expected to be everything, and that creates a really difficult work-life balance,” Putzy said. “I can never leave everything at school.”

Putzy said the people she knows who leave education now are exiting the field entirely, and she doesn’t think a couple extra thousand dollars would get them to stay.

“We do have teachers who leave for other schools, and others leave just to leave,” Putzy said. “I don’t know if raising pay will change that and I don’t know that the teacher shortage is something that can change overnight.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Roxy Ekberg, Politics Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.