Support for Higher Teacher Salaries Drops When People Find Out How Much Teachers Earn

By Barbara Hollingsworth | September 14, 2015 | 3:28pm EDT
(AP photo)

( – Americans consistently underestimate how much is spent annually to educate children in the nation’s public schools, including how much teachers are being paid.

But when they are told the actual amount, the percentage of the public that supports increasing teacher salaries drops from about two-thirds (63 percent) to less than half (45 percent), according the ninth annual Education Next poll.

“When the public is informed of teacher salaries, support for increasing salaries declines,” the EdNext poll found. “Support drops even further when the public is reminded that an increase would be funded by tax dollars.”

The poll was conducted in May and June by Professors Paul Peterson and Martin West of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“People estimate that their local school districts spent $6,307 per child when we know from U.S. Department of Education statistics that it’s actually twice that” – or an average of $12,440 per child, Peterson told

“The response has been very consistent from year to year,” he said, adding that the steep drop in public support for more education spending is significant.

“You don’t get an 18 point difference very often,” he noted.

Americans also guessed that the 4 million public school teachers in the U.S. receive an average yearly salary of $38,294 – considerably lower than the actual average of $55,510, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Peterson said the poll questions did not include other teacher compensation, such as health benefits and pensions.

The 4,083 respondents, which comprised a nationally representative sample, were divided into two groups. Both groups were asked whether teacher salaries should decrease, increase, or stay the same, but only members of one group were also given the current average teacher salary in their state.

Peterson attributed Americans’ low-ball estimates on per-pupil expenditures and teacher salaries to a general lack of media coverage of the issue.

“About 50 percent of a local school district’s expenditures come from its own resources. The rest is from the state and federal governments,” he explained. “But what people think about is the money raised from the local tax base.”

Peterson concluded that the more information on current expenditures Americans have, the less inclined they are to support higher taxes in order to further increase spending on education.

“If they are aware of how much money is being spent, they might also have higher expectations,” he added.

Related: Poll: Only 40% of Teachers Support Common Core

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