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Congresswoman Wilson Files American Teacher Act to Raise Minimum Teacher Salaries to $60,000

Washington D.C. – Yesterday, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), Ranking Member of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee, and Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) introduced the American Teacher Act in the House with more than 50 cosponsors. The bill seeks to address the teacher shortage crisis by providing teacher salary incentive grants that support state efforts to increase teacher salaries to a minimum of $60,000 per year. This year, the bill also established a second grant program to provide cost of living adjustments for teachers earning $60,000 or above. 

Pictures and videos of the press conference available.

"President Biden said during the State of the Union address, 'Let's give public school teachers a raise.' Republicans and Democrats gave a rousing applause because it is long overdue! It's time for Congress to send the President a bill that raises teacher salaries nationwide. Today, we're taking the first step towards doing just that. We're introducing the American Teacher Act," said Congresswoman Wilson. "The teacher shortage is among the most pressing threats to education access today. Our classrooms are at stake, our children are at stake, and the future of our country is at stake. I am reintroducing the American Teacher Act to address the teacher shortage and ensure that no teacher in America is paid less than $60,000 annually. Our teachers don't just deserve our gratitude, they deserve a living wage, and it's time we fight for it."

Teacher shortages have reached a critical point and continue to threaten education access as districts across the country are forced to radically adjust school offerings to respond to turnover and prolonged vacancies. Every day, stories surface of schools shortening their weeks, canceling courses, increasing student-teacher ratios, and placing underprepared or temporary substitute staff in core instructional roles. Such adjustments disrupt learning, take a sustained toll on teacher morale, and harm student achievement.

At the State of the Union, President Joe Biden called on Congress to raise public school teachers. In August, the White House issued a fact sheet renewing attention to the weak teacher pipeline and calling upon legislators to use federal, state, and local resources to strengthen teaching career pathways and ensure competitive, livable wages.

"Nearly one in five American teachers report needing to take on a second or third job just to make ends meet," said Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16). "We need to do better by our educators. As an educator of 20 years, I have first-hand experience of the impact that far too low salaries have on teachers. Our teachers' demands, responsibilities, and expectations continue to increase, but their salaries do not. The American Teacher Act is a vital step forward to ensure our teachers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Let's stop giving teachers empty words of appreciation and start paying them a livable wage and respecting them as the backbone of our communities that they are."

"The average beginning salary for teachers is $41,000. The American Teacher Act is absolutely needed. It is time to stop relying on a teacher's goodwill. They need to feed their families and have a living wage. They deserve to live in the places in which they teach," said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. "I can't thank Congresswoman Wilson and the Teacher Salary Project enough for putting these questions to Congress and America. Let's start valuing teachers and raise minimum teacher salaries to a minimum of $60,000. Let's create a living wage for what they do for our children." 

"I am so grateful to Congresswoman Wilson for filing the American Teacher Act and to Congressman Bowman for always standing by our educators and fighting for our students. Today we find ourselves in a 5-alarm crisis staffing shortages in all our schools across the country. There are nearly 570,000 fewer educators in our schools today than at the start of the pandemic, and 55 percent of those remaining are considering leaving the profession. We have a shortage of professional pay, basic dignity, and respect for the professionals they are," commented Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association. "COVID only made a long-standing problem even worse. Too many educators are subjected to outright attacks for shouldering the responsibility to care for every student and ensure they have the resources, access to support, and freedom to learn the honest truth about our country. We support the American Teacher Act, which will meet the goal of addressing educator shortage with long-term solutions, not band-aid approaches. It is not okay that the people who have dedicated their lives to this country's children are living in their cars and renting out their houses on Airbnb—that's not okay. That is not America. Join us in our fight for America's teachers and America's students.

"Thank you, Rep. Wilson and Rep. Bowman, for inviting our organization into a partnership to solve this crisis together. As we approach the 250th anniversary of our country in three years, how do we want to define who we are as a nation? Let's decide now to mark 250 years with historic commitments to our future democracy, economy, vibrant communities, and a true commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all by investing in the people who educate our children," said Ellen Sherratt, Board President of The Teacher Salary Project. "Last night, in her response to the State of the Union, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders vowed to make her state top in the nation for teacher salaries. If you are a state leader, please know that we stand ready to support your state in claiming that title. Let the race to being the best-paying state for teachers begin!"

"Educators are the engine of our education system and are often the most influential adults outside of families that students will first interact with. This is why it's so critical we have well-prepared and well-paid educators," said Amanda Fernandez, CEO and Founder of Latinos for Education. "This is especially true for Latino educators who are disproportionately underrepresented in the teaching profession and often tell us that pay is one of the biggest barriers to entering and staying in the profession. The American Teacher Act is an important step in addressing this barrier, and we're excited to work with other stakeholders to reimagine and reinvest in the teaching profession."

Failing to invest in our teachers properly perpetuates shortages by devaluing the profession and diverting current and prospective educators. Currently, the Economic Policy Institute reports an enduring pay penalty for teachers, meaning that those in the profession earn lower weekly wages and receive lower overall compensation for their work than their similarly college-educated peers. This penalty reached a record high of 23.5% for public school teaching in 2021, making it increasingly difficult for our nation to recruit, train, and maintain qualified educators. These concerns are even more significant among teachers of color, who are more likely to teach in schools with fewer resources. To restore stability in our schools and secure equitable access to high-quality education, we must raise awareness surrounding the value of teaching as a profession and provide compensation that reflects this value.

The American Teacher Act centers education as a national priority and addresses teacher shortages by supporting states in better-insulating teaching as a valued and viable career. The bill would authorize funding to support the following: 

  • Provide a funding device that supports states and districts in closing the gap between current salaries and the $60,000 minimum over the course of 4 years.
  • Allot 15% of funding to states and 85% directly to school districts to support this transition.
  • Provide a cost-of-living adjustment to ensure that the minimum teacher salary keeps pace with inflation.
  • Require a maintenance-of-effort provision to ensure states and districts do not replace currently committed allocations with federal government funding.
  • Include a part-time teacher provision that adjusts the required minimum salary proportional to workload (e.g., a 60% FTE teacher would have a minimum salary of $36,000).
  • Provide a separate grant program to award states cost-of-living adjustments where the base teacher salary exceeds $60,000.
  • Prioritize local educational agencies qualifying as low or moderate-income.
  • Invest in a national campaign to expand awareness of the value of teaching and encourage secondary and college students to consider teaching as a career.

Grantees would be required to establish a statewide teacher salary schedule with a minimum threshold of $60,000 and annual increases congruent with the inflation rate. This financial incentive supports ongoing state efforts to ensure competitive wages for teachers. 

The American Teacher Act is being cosponsored by: Representatives J. Bowman (NY-16), B. Thompson (MS-03), A. Adams (NC-12), M. Takano (CA-41), D. Evans (PA-3), S. Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), R. Delauro (CT-03), A. Pressley (MA-07), T Sewell (AL-07), H. Johnson (GA-04), E. Holmes Norton (DC), J Tokuda (HI-02), A Carson (IN-07), L. Blunt-Roshester (DE), S. Jackson-Lee (TX-18), N. Velazquez (NY-07), Sykes (OH-13), N. Williams (GA-05), B. Watson-Coleman (NJ-12), L. McBath (GA-07), M. DeSailnier (CA-10), J. Courtney (CT-02), M. Sherrill (NJ-11), Y. Clarke (NY-09), A. Kim (NJ-03), G. Moore (WI-12), R. Tlaib (MI-12), C.A. Ruppersberger (MD-02), H. Stevens (MI-11), E. Cleaver (MO-05), R. Grijalva (AZ-07), B. Lee (CA-12), H. Cueller (TX-28), S. Brown (OH-11), G. Landsman (OH-01), J. Moskowitz (FL-23), V. Foushee (NC-04), A. Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), S. Thanedar (MI-13), S. Bonamici (OR-17), J. Gottheimer (NJ-05), J. Clyburn (SC-06), M. Pocan (WI-02), S. Wild (PA-07), M. Dean (PA-04), T. Lieu (CA-36) J. Hayes (CT-5), J. Beatty (OH-3), J. Courtney (CT-2).

The American teacher Act is strongly supported by leading advocacy organizations, including the Teacher Salary Project, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), The National Education Association (NEA), The Education Trust, Teach for America, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Educators for Excellence, Council for Exceptional Children, Center for Black Educator Development, Alliance for Excellent Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, National Center for Grow Your Own, National Equity Project, Black Teacher Project, Teach.Org, Open Way Learning, The Million Dollar Teacher Project,  American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, University of San Francisco School of Education,  826 Valencia,  Tall Poppy, LLC, New Jersey Teacher Corps, Public Advocacy for Kids, Center for Curriculum Redesign, New Mexico Association for the Education of Young Children,  Hispanic Association of College and Universities, and American Consortium for Equity in Education. For a full list of endorsing organizations, click here.

To read the bill text for the American Teacher Act, click here.