Raising the Student/Teacher Ratio Would Increase Teacher Salaries
In policy, as in our daily lives, our decisions have trade-offs. I can buy a new car and make payments or I could have more disposable income each month. The same is true when it comes to how we run our schools and compensate our teachers. Much of the public narrative lately has been about Missouri’s relatively low teachers’ salaries. Missouri ranks 47th in the average teacher salary, with an average of $51,557. The starting average teacher salary (news I broke on the Institute blog because no other media source had requested or reported the data) was $38,367.33 in 2022.
In that post where I corrected the record on Missouri’s actual starting teacher salary, I noted some additional facts related to Missouri’s staffing policies:
Missouri ranks 43rd in average salaries for instructional staff. Meanwhile, Missouri ranks 48th in student-to-teacher ratio, with 11.3 students per teacher. In comparison, Illinois’s ratio is 14.3 to 1, ranking the state 28th. In 2021, revenues for Missouri’s public schools were $15,809 per student, which is 31st overall nationwide. These data suggest that part of the reason Missouri’s teacher salaries are relatively low is due to staffing choices made by school districts themselves. It is funny when you question the narrative with facts how some people like to twist what you are saying. On Twitter, for example, one person responded by asking, “Are you upset the teacher/student ratio is so low, too?” That’s a strange interpretation. I’m just offering an explanation. It’s simple math really.
Missouri school districts could choose to hire fewer teachers and pay them more or hire more teachers and pay them less. They choose the latter.
Let’s work this out a bit more. Let’s assume everything remains constant (the number of students and the state’s payroll for teachers), but we change the student-to-teacher ratio. If Missouri were to match Illinois’ ratio of 14.3, Missouri teachers could realize a 26.5% increase in their salaries.
By choosing to hire fewer teachers, Missouri schools could choose to raise average teacher salaries from $51,557 to $65,244. This would push the Show-Me State’s ranking in average teacher salary up to 16th in the nation.
If we moved the students enrolled per teacher figure up to match Florida’s 19.6 to 1 ratio, it would result in a 73.4% increase in teachers’ salaries. This would raise Missouri’s average teacher salary up to $89,426 and would put Missouri second only behind New York.
All of the policy attention has been on Missouri’s minimum teacher salary of $25,000. According to the Missouri State Teacher’s Association, only one district in the entire state starts teachers at that rate (the Middle Grove School District, with 35 students).
Of course, raising a student-to-teacher ratio is not as simple as the mathematical exercise I’ve done here. Nevertheless, the point remains. School districts make staffing decisions and those decisions impact salaries as much, if not more, than the state-mandated minimum salary.
Note on the calculations used:
average salary = P/T = P/S x S/T, where S= students, P=payroll, T=teachers.
So if spending per student (P/S) is constant, salary varies proportionately with S/T. If MO had the same S/T ratio as Illinois then average teacher pay in Missouri could rise by 26.5% (100 x 14.3/11.3) with no change in spending.