Aunt Becky and the ‘Underpaid Teachers’ Myth

Andrew Biggs:

There’s plenty of money out there. As we have recently seen, private-school parents will spend outrageous sums to help their kids get ahead. Consider Full House actress Lori Loughlin, whose two daughters attended Marymount, an all-girls Catholic high school in Los Angeles that charges annual tuition of $37,000. As if to cement the point that money was no object when it came to her daughters’ education, Ms. Loughlin is currently under federal indictment for paying a $500,000 bribe to University of Southern California officials to admit her daughters, based on the fiction that they were collegiate-level rowers. Now Ms. Loughlin — like fellow actress Felicity Huffman and dozens of others indicted on similar charges — faces jail time.

But one thing private schools don’t throw money at is teacher salaries. The school that Loughlin’s daughters attended pays its teachers around $53,500 per year, 33 percent less than the $80,000 median annual salary of Los Angeles public-school teachers. (The EPI study is based on weekly wages, calculated in the case of teachers over the length of the school year rather than the entire calendar year.)

The same goes for the millions of other helicopter parents and tiger moms who pay private-school tuition in hopes of getting their child into First Choice University. If paying higher teacher salaries would buy their kids a better chance, why don’t they demand an increase? In 2011–12, the most recent year for which data are available, the median full-time teacher in a non-religious private school earned a base salary of $38,000, 24 percent less than the $50,000 base salary for the median non-charter public-school teacher. Parochial-school teachers earned even less, at just $35,000 per year.