Are Teachers Underpaid?

Are Teachers Underpaid?


Montana has among the lowest starting wages for teachers, though average teacher’s wages are considerably better, 28th among the fifty states[1]. Teacher pay is perceived as low.


“The bottom line,” says the Center for American Progress, “is that mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence[2].”


Legislatures are constantly badgered to increase education funding, meaning mostly[3] pay for teachers. The upcoming legislative session can expect such badgering.


How bad do teachers have it? The average teacher in Bozeman made $60,961 last school year. Their contract is for 185 days, of which nine are PIR days. They required substitutes another 21 days, leaving them 155 days in the classroom. This means they are paid $393.29[4] per classroom day. Plus benefits.


The average Montana daily wage in 2013 was $146.00[5].


Calls for increasing education funding should be considered in light of this wage comparison.

Carpenter                          Seligman 1866

Average worker                               Teacher


Heights of these photos shows the ratio of the pay of the average Montana worker to the pay of a Bozeman teacher, 1:2.67


Photos: Wikimedia









[3] Generally speaking, a school district spends between 80 and 85 percent of its entire

budget on salaries and benefits, meaning only 15 to 20 percent remains to address all of the rest of the budget’s priorities and needs.





School Numbers

School Numbers


$60,961           Average amount teachers make[1] in Bozeman.


$36,500           Montana average wage[2] in 2014. Weekly wage of $730 times 50 weeks


21                    Days per year a substitute covered[3] for the average Bozeman teacher.


$393.29           Teacher pay per day in the classroom[4].


$146.00           Montana average daily wage in 2013 ($730 per week/ 5 days)


10,645             K-12 public school teachers[5] in Montana[6]


  • Students per teacher; ten states have a lower student-to-teacher ratio


417                  Number of school districts in Montana[7] [8]


142,349           Number of K-12 students in Montana[9]


$10,710           Per pupil spending in Montana[10]


0                      Number of charter schools in Montana


8                      States without charter schools


$1.79 billion   Executive request for schools 2014-15 biennium[11], all funds



[1] BSD 7. AA districts would be higher than A, B and C districts. 2012-13 Teacher’s salaries, plus teacher coaching and curriculum development, of $23,259,991/ 393 FTE teachers= $59,185. Add 3% for 2013-14 contract= $60,961.


[3] Sick days, personal days, bereavement days, professional development, traveling with athletic or speech teams

[4] Contract of 185 days, less 9 PIR days, less 21 days of substitutes=155 days in the classroom. BSD paid $789,406.76 for teacher substitutes in 2012-13. Divide by $95 daily rate for a substitute=8,309 substitute days/ 393 FTE teachers= 21.1 substitute days per FTE teacher, or 11% of their contract.


[6] A slightly different number is given here:


[8] The most per capita of any state, including other sparsely populated states. This site,, is the basis for per capita comparisons though it gives a different number of districts.



[11] page E-1

Annual Cost of Education

Annual Cost of Education


$9,000               Head Start[1]  (Head Start is a half-day program)

$11,607            Montana K-12[2]

$18,029           Colleges in Montana State University (Bozeman, Billings, Havre, Great Falls)[3]

$55,140           Chief Dull Knife College (Lame Deer)[4]



There are 142,349 students in public K-12 schools.

There are 39,484 full time equivalent students in the Montana University System.






Click to access Ed%20Unit%20Funding%20Charts%20FY14-15.pdf

[1] Interview with administrator


[3] Legislative Audit Division, 2013 audit. Expenditures of $489 million. Subtract research and public service of $128 million. Divide by FTE students of 19,824.

[4] Audit: Expenditures of $6.286 million. Wikipedia: enrollment (FTE?) of 114.

Montana Numbers Are Not So Rosy

Montana Numbers Are Not So Rosy

(This content first appeared as a letter to the editor of the Belgrade News.)

Governing Magazine calls Montana’s government the most prudent in the U.S. The governor’s office uses the news to give an impression of general well-being. His budget director says, “Gov. Steve Bullock has a solid fiscal management strategy.” We welcome good news like that from the magazine, but further context is imperative; other measurements dampen enthusiasm.

Only fourteen states have pensions that are less-funded than Montana’s pensions, and all but five of them enjoy higher incomes with which to fix deficits.

We are 3rd most indebted per capita among states relative to gross state product.

46% of our budget is actually federal funds used by the state, funds that have to be either extracted from taxpayers in other states or borrowed. Montana is 8th most reliant of the states on federal funds.

Montana is 49th lowest in wages–49th!– and 44th in median household income. Nationally, the average annual wage is $46,440; Montana’s is $39,090; Colorado’s is $48,950; Washington’s is $52,090.

Our state is 44th lowest in economic freedom rankings. Economic freedom consists of market-friendly labor laws, low taxes and relatively small government.

We have the 16th highest tax burden relative to ability to pay; we have a middle-of-the-pack tax burden but scant ability to afford it.

Businesses here pay some of the highest worker’s compensation rates among the states, crimping hiring.

The budget director’s praise may be opportunistic, political happy-talk.

These numbers cause concern; they also show us where we can improve. Starting from such a low point, making our economy more prosperous would not be a big stretch. Let’s do it!

Adequacy of State Employee Retirement Benefits

Public pension benefits:


Amount[1] average full-career state government retiree gets per year,

not including social security:                                                 $34,308[2]


National average[3] social security benefit:                             $14,800 a year[4]


Add retirement benefit and social security benefit:              $49,108



Incomes of Montanans:


Montana median wage: $14.79                                               $29,580 a year


Montana average weekly wage[5] 2013: $705.                        $35,250[6]


Montana per capita income 2012:                                         $37,300[7]


Montana median household income:                                                 $43,226[8]







[1] MPERA CAFR page 281

[2] AEI: Not So Modest: Pension Benefits for Full-Career State Government Employees. Andrew Biggs

[3] Social security benefit for someone who worked all their adult life and retired at 65: 41%[3] of past earnings. For teachers that would be $20-24,000 a year




[6] for 50 weeks, 2.7% more than government retirees receive