SALT LAKE CITY — What would it take to raise Utah teacher salaries to a living wage? What would it take to retain teachers or re-engage teachers who left the profession?
This week, Envision Utah will convene 21 education stakeholders — who include legislative leaders, the president of the Utah Education Association, the state superintendent, and top business and technology leaders — to seek answers to those questions and develop possible solutions.
"We're hoping the discussion will lead to some real guidance on what ought to happen," said Robert Grow, Envision Utah's chief executive officer, during a meeting of the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday.
Research and polling conducted by Envision Utah, a nonprofit regional planning agency, points to one key factor: teacher compensation.
Compared to other careers that also require a bachelor's degree, Utah teacher salaries rank near or at the bottom. Unlike other professions where earnings increase significantly over time, the growth trajectory for teacher salaries is relatively flat.
The list includes financial managers, engineers, accountants, construction managers and other careers that require a bachelor's degree and have a relatively direct path from a college major to a career in the same field.
"To make teacher salaries more comparable and competitive … would take a 40-55 percent increase in starting salaries and a 38-68 percent increase in median salaries," according to Envision Utah documents.
While Envision Utah polling shows a growing number of Utahns say they are willing to increase funding for education, the unanswered question is how.
"I don't know the outcome of this. This is not easy. This is hard. This may be the most difficult thing Envision Utah has ever tried to facilitate as a discussion," said Grow.
The "how much" seems a little more clear cut.
According to the Living Wage Calculator created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, a household of two parents and three children with one working adult would need an annual salary of nearly $60,000 to have a living wage based on typical expenses in Utah.
"Median teacher salaries are $5,800 short of that mark," Envision Utah documents state. It would take roughly $200 million ongoing to bring up salaries and benefits to that level.
Moreover, with just a bachelor's degree, teachers in 17 of Utah's 41 school districts will never make the living wage for their county. With a master's degree, it takes seven to 24 years for teachers to earn enough to support a five-person family in the county where they work, the documents state.
One thing is certain: The demand for teachers outstrips supply. Utah's traditional teacher preparation programs produced 1,780 new teachers in 2016. That same year, 3,452 educators left the profession, leaving a deficit of 1,672.
An Envision Utah survey of 4,000 college students showed that 44 percent considered education as a career, but more than a third said they didn't choose teaching because of the pay.49 comments on this story
Students with GPAs of 3.5 and above and those who scored 30 or higher on the ACT said they would teach if salaries were higher, there were more career growth options, and more scholarships and financial aid.
Many people in Envision Utah's stakeholder group have been talking to one another about these challenges for years. Others will be new to the conversation, Grow said.
"All of these people approach this question in good faith, with strong feeling and a hope Utah's children will be very well educated," he said.