Wyoming lawmakers mull high teacher salaries

2011-09-16T23:45:00Z 2011-09-16T23:54:44Z Wyoming lawmakers mull high teacher salaries

By JACKIE BORCHARDT

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
September 16, 2011 11:45 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming teachers are paid more than many of their colleagues in neighboring states, but state lawmakers on Friday continued to discuss whether the pay is adequate given the economic climate and teacher quality.

Lawmakers commissioned a study of teacher salaries and benefits and comparisons with other states last year while reviewing the state school funding model.

Wyoming teachers earn, on average, 95 percent of the average professional and technical wages, without adjusting for experience or benefits, according to a study by Christina Stoddard, a researcher at Montana State University. Wyoming teachers earn less, on average, than comparable professional and technical occupations, but the gap has narrowed between 2006 and 2009.

Higher-quality teachers

Stoddard said high salaries can attract higher-quality teachers, but raising already-high salaries has no effect on quality.

“Wyoming hires a lot more teachers outside of the state, but they’re hiring teachers from the same level of university,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard compared the University of Wyoming, which graduates about one-fourth of Wyoming teachers, to another top producer of Wyoming teachers, Montana State University in Bozeman. The student populations at both universities have similar average ACT scores — 23.4 at UW and 23.8 at MSU in 2009. Elementary education majors at both institutions scored lower in the ACT pre-college test than secondary education majors, and students in both majors scored below both institutions’ average ACT scores for all students.

Some legislators on the Joint Interim Education and Appropriations committees concluded the lack of diverse higher education institutions meant higher-quality teachers have not been hired as a result of increased salaries.

“I don’t want someone who scored a 20 on their ACT teaching my third-grader in reading,” said Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, co-chairman of the joint education committee. “What this whole thing proves is you can’t buy a high-quality education system. If you could just purchase it, we would have bought it by now.”

Combination of tests

Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, disagreed, reminding lawmakers the composite ACT score is a combination of multiple tests.

“I know some (with perfect scores) that wouldn’t make very good teachers at all,” Landen said.

Stoddard said the best measures of teacher quality, not included in her report, are the effects of that teacher on student outcomes. She said more school districts are using data to determine quality.

Lawmakers last year also asked for a study on regional cost adjustments within the state. Typically included in the recalibration, or review, of the funding model every five years, lawmakers were advised to wait until 2011 when data from the 2010 census could be included.

School districts receive an external cost adjustment based on the Hedonic Wage Index, last updated in 2005, the Wyoming Cost of Living Index or a value of 100, whichever is greater. The HWI is based on predicted base salary in each school district, controlling for differences in quality such as accepting a job in a school with a higher poverty rate or where the cost of living is lower.

The HWI is the best estimate of the cost of hiring teachers, Stoddard said, but it would be the greatest measure for only 22 school districts because of the three-way design of the regional cost adjustment.

The education committee plans to meet in Casper to further review the funding model’s external cost adjustment and decide whether to recommend changes.

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