Teachers in the District’s traditional public schools earn more than their counterparts at nearly every D.C. charter school, according to a Washington Post review of teacher salaries across the city, with many city teachers earning salaries that are thousands of dollars higher.
School officials say high pay is a key part of the city’s strategy for attracting talented people to teach in some of the nation’s most challenging schools. For charters, however, it creates an additional challenge. Unable to match the school system’s salaries, many charters instead rely on other factors to recruit and retain candidates, including small class sizes, professional development opportunities and strongly defined missions and cultures.
The wide variation of school environments and pay scales shows how the District has become a closely watched experiment in its use of charters and school choice, not just for parents seeking the right education for their children, but also for teachers seeking work. Charters now enroll more than 40 percent of the city’s public school students, and they are growing.
The pay difference is largely the result of a landmark 2010 union contract, in which traditional public school teachers gave up longstanding job protections in return for 20 percent raises over five years, plus merit bonuses. Although that contract pushed many charters to increase wages, almost every charter’s minimum, average and maximum salaries lag behind traditional schools.
“Teaching is one of the hardest jobs — period, the end,” Chancellor Kaya Henderson said. “And teaching in D.C. Public Schools is even more difficult than in some other places where conditions might be more ideal. We want to be a place where people want to come and want to stay and not worry how they’re going to take care of themselves.”
The school system’s minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience was $51,539 in 2011-12. More than two dozen of the city’s charters started their salaries at less than $43,000 that year, the Post review found. Some charters’ maximum pay was below the average pay in the city’s traditional schools.
DCPS teachers can earn a maximum base pay of $106,540 plus bonuses of up to $25,000 each year, far higher than the best-paid teacher at many charters, most of which have maximum base salaries of less than $80,000.
The District’s average teacher pay of $77,512 in 2013 is the highest in the region. Montgomery County is second, at $74,855; Fairfax County is sixth, at $64,813.
D.C. public charters operate as independent school districts, not tethered to the teachers union and free to set salaries and hiring standards. Although charters receive the same per-student tax funding, they do not get some of the government resources that benefit the traditional school system. That has contributed to charters touting intangible benefits instead of high salaries.